Yesterday, on a phone teleconference, Wolves GM David Kahn officially announced the signing of former Utah Jazz standout Andrei Kirilenko to a two-year, $20 million pact after previously missing out on top free agent target Nicolas Batum. Kirilenko, 31, played this most recent season for CKSA Moscow following a decade of play for Utah. During his sole season with the Russian club, Kirilenko earned Euroleague MVP and top defender honors, demonstrating that he has not lost a step and is clearly still an elite defender as well as a polished all around player. As a former three-time NBA All-Star and three-time All-NBA defender, Kirilenko brings a little bit of everything to a Wolves frontcourt that has been previously plagued by the play of now former Wolves Wes Johnson and Michael Beasley.
In order to free up the necessary cap space to sign AK-47, the Timberwolves sent now official draft bust Wes Johnson and a future first-round draft pick to Phoenix in a three team trade that also involved the New Orleans Hornets. As a part of the trade, Minnesota received three future second-round draft choices but most importantly, the cap space to sign the Russian superstar. Wes Johnson had a tumultuous two year career with the Timberwolves and failed to even remotely live up to the hype of being selected 4th overall in the 2010 draft, while being selected in front of the likes of Demarcus Cousins, Greg Monroe, and Paul George, among others. Johnson comes off as having very unstable confidence and his dribbling skills remain unacceptable for an NBA small forward, and as he is now 25-years-old he can no longer be looked at as simply a high upside prospect. The former Syracuse star now joins fellow former Timberwolf Micheal Beasley in Phoenix in what will most likely be a rebuilding year for the Steve Nash-less Suns.
David Kahn should, and will be, criticized for yet another high draft pick failure in Wes Johnson. However, when considering Kahn’s moves this offseason, it is clear that he may be on the verge of putting together one of the top teams in the West. The additions of Chase Budinger, Greg Stiemsma, Brandon Roy, Alexey Shved, Dante Cunningham, and Andrei Kirilenko make Minnesota a vastly improved team in nearly every aspect of the game, and perfectly complement the young core of Ricky Rubio, Kevin Love, Nikola Pekovic, and Derrick Williams. Each acquisition was also made with Rick Adelman’s corner offense in mind, as each player’s skill set will greatly impact the team’s efficiency on both ends of the floor.
By disposing of players like Beasley, Randolph, Johnson, and Ellington, the Wolves front office is no longer putting value on young, unfulfilled potential, and is instead finding proven pieces that they know what they can get out of. Barring any serious injuries, Minnesota now should be a lock to make the playoffs as they not only have an impressive starting lineup of Rubio-Roy-Kirilenko-Love-Pekovic, but they have an incredibly deep, defensive-minded bench consisting of Ridnour-Barea-Shved-Budinger-Williams-Cunningham-Stiemsma. Barea can now focus on having a smaller role of being nothing more than a sparkplug who logs big minutes only when he is effective, and the team has a lot of versatility and the ability to match up against virtually any lineup in the NBA. Kirilenko, having played with Shved on CSKA Moscow, will be of intangible help to the young rising star as he transitions to a new league and a new country. But, most importantly, Rick Adelman is at the helm. What better general is there to guide this group of high-character players than the future Hall of Famer and one of the winningest NBA coaches in the history of the sport?
Now, don’t get too excited, but there are rumors beginning to surface from sources close to the action that Kahn is planning one more significant acquisition: Tyreke Evans for Derrick Williams. I’ll let you sit on that thought.