September 21, 2007

An open letter

Dear Andrei Kirilenko:

As a Salt Lake native and die-hard Jazz fan, let me first tell you that I have really enjoyed watching you play over the last 4 seasons. I realize you've been in the league for 5 seasons, but your injuries and your disappearance last year make it seem like it's only been 4. You have an incredible knack for finding the ball and making big defensive plays. You also have a knack for taking ill-advised shots, letting players beat you off the dribble with the hopes of blocking the shot from the backside, dribbling too much, driving into traffic with nowhere to go, and just generally disrupting the team's offense.

You were "the man" on the '03-'04 squad that managed to win 42 games and you thought that you deserved Pau Gasol type money. Larry Miller eventually agreed and you got a max contract, so what happened next season? You only played in half the games and the Jazz struggled to 26 wins. The next season, despite playing 5 more minutes per game, your shooting percentage went down, followed by your free throw percentage, blocks, and points while your turnovers went up. That squad won 41 games while you sat out 13 games.

Which brings us to this last season. Your minutes fell from 38 to 29, a significant but not life-altering amount. The Jazz finally got to realize their investment in Carlos Boozer and discovered that he was much more reliable as an offensive player, which cost you shots (falling from 10 to 6). How did you react? You withdrew and played with lackluster effort. Quite a change from "the man" we saw on the 2004 team.

This all culminated with your infamous crying episode during the Houston series, which was an embarrassing series for a player with your skill (5 ppg, 3 rpg, and 57% ft). You seemed to regain much of your form during the series against Golden State, and all of us thought we had our man back. Of course it was too little too late as your roller-coaster off season ended in a trough. In 17 playoff games you averaged 9.6 ppg and 5.2 rpg, not any better than Matt Harpring (9.3 and 4.8) who played 6 less minutes per game than you.

My point is this: if anyone should be complaining, it is us, the fans. You negotiated a max contract and you have not lived up to the expectations of such a hefty salary. Blaming your performance on minutes played is a loser's argument, if your play was worthy of your contract you would have had more minutes to play. If this frustration hadn't gotten the best of you, you might have taken fewer bad shots or not driven wildly to the hoop in search of a foul. The millions that the Jazz have spent on you over the last 2 seasons could have gone towards players who weren't concerned about their minutes.

I will cherish many memories of you in the Delta Center, especially the first 4 games of the '04-'05 season when you averaged 17.5 points and 6.5 blocks, I was at 2 of those games and I won't forget them. I wish you well in your future basketball endeavors (except against the Jazz) and I hope that you don't carry the same sense of entitlement wherever you go and won't shrug your shoulders when people ask what's happened to your game. It vanished when you started caring more about your role than your team.


No comments:

--------------- ---------------