It seems like a long time ago now, but Andrei Kirilenko was once considered the future for the Utah Jazz. The Russian-born small forward impressed with tenacious defense and excellent leaping ability. Kirilenko was selected 24th overall in the 2001 NBA Draft. At this point, Utah was on their way to transitioning from the Karl Malone– John Stockton glory days. They had found their piece to carry them for decades to come.
Offensively, Kirilenko’s statistics were not extraordinary as his highest scoring average came in 2003-’04, when he put up 16.5 points a night. Kirilenko did guide to the team to considerable success with five appearances out of nine seasons in Salt Lake City, as well as an appearance in the 2007 Western Conference Finals.
In 2011 Kirilenko, then a free agent, decided to rejoin his former team CSKA Moscow partially due to the NBA lockout. Upon his return, the forward refused to even consider Utah as a destination, also passing on his fellow countryman Mikhail Prokhorov by joining the Minnesota Timberwolves. Financially, Minnesota made a significant commitment, with a two-year $20 million pact.
Kirilenko made it clear that he was done in Utah, and while some fans may have wanted him back there has been a silver lining. Filling this newly-created void in the three spot became imperative, and second-year small forward Gordon Hayward has improved offensively from his rookie season jumping, from 11.8 to 13.5 points per game, which is the same as Kirilenko.
The former Butler Bulldog has justified the Jazz’s decision to select him ninth overall in the 2010 draft. Hayward has established an effective jump shot and displays a lot of the same skills that helped him emerge at Butler. Defensively, he has also shown the ability to get under his opponent’s skin. He is nine years younger than Kirilenko, and a return by the former star would have created a logjam at small forward. A decade ago, Kirilenko represented the cornerstone of the future; now, he would not have even the best player at his position.