Andrei Kirilenko scoffs at Russian conspiracy theory

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You have heard the conspiracy theory by now: Andrei Kirilenko opted out of the $10.2 million final year of his contract with Minnesota to sign with the Brooklyn Nets for the taxpayers midlevel exception of $3.1 million (he signed a two year deal). Around the league there are plenty of executives convinced there is something shady here, that the Russian owner of the Nets Mikhail Prokhorov set up a side deal where Kirilenko is living in a gold-plated home like the Russian oligarch in the DirecTV commercial, right down to the miniature pet giraffe.

Good luck proving it, but much like the second shooter on the grassy knoll there are some taking this as fact.

Kirilenko brushed off the entire idea in a conversation with Stefan Bondy of the New York Daily News.

“I opted out not because I wanted to sign with the Nets. At that time, I wanted to be in Minnesota for a long time. But there was a change in Minnesota. I respect Flip Saunders decision, but he decided not to sign me for a long time. I can’t do anything about that…

“I can’t do anything with what people think. I’m coming from the facts. I can’t change it. I can’t control it. …Those type of rumors I can’t control. And I guess it comes from the history because of the Russian KGB. It makes it a little funny. What can I do?”

What else can he say? You are going to believe what you want to believe regardless of what he says.

Adding AK47 off the bench makes the Nets more dangerous, a deeper team with a little more athleticism along the front line. I’ve got questions — can they keep Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce healthy? Can Deron Williams play up to his Utah form again? Can Jason Kidd coach? — but they are dangerous. Kirilenko sees them as contenders.

“The Nets right now is very completed. Every position you have a player who is an All-Star and know how to compete on that level. There’s no recipe right now on how you’re going to beat one team, how you’re going to beat another team, because it’s just a game. But I think because you have those kind of guys who have been there, very experienced guys who have played Game 7 many times, I’m not worried about how we’re going to compete against Miami, how we’re going to compete against Indiana. It’s going to a lot of hope about how quick we can mesh, and not only in locker room because I’m not worried about the locker room, but how quick we can understand each other – how fast we can connect with each other, how fast we can adjust.”

John Wall scores 37 as Wizards down LeBron James, Cavs 127-115

Associated Press
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CLEVELAND (AP) John Wall scored 37 points, Bradley Beal added 27 and the Washington Wizards began a challenging road trip by beating LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers 127-115 on Saturday night.

Wall scored 18 in the first quarter, when the Wizards shot 82 percent, and Washington held on down the stretch to avenge an overtime loss to the NBA champions last month.

James, who briefly wore goggles to protect an eye injury sustained Friday night, scored 24 and added 11 rebounds and eight assists. Kyrie Irving added 23 points and Kevin Love 17 for Cleveland, playing at home for the only time in a seven-game stretch.

Washington’s victory cut Cleveland’s lead in the Eastern Conference to a half-game over idle Boston.

Rudy Gobert calls out Jazz teammates after loss: “We’ve just got to compete. We’re too nice.”

Associated Press
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Utah and the L.A. Clippers are almost locked into a first round, four vs. five battle in the Western Conference. The only question is which team will have home court, and the Clippers took a big step towards that beating the Jazz at home Saturday. While the Jazz still has a half-game lead, the Clippers have a much softer schedule the rest of the way.

After that loss, Jazz center Rudy Gobert was ticked off and called out his teammates. Via Tim MacMahon of ESPN.

“We’ve got guys that compete, but some of us don’t compete. Some of us just think about scoring. That’s what it is. … Coach keeps repeating it: We’ve just got to compete. We’re too nice. Those guys, we know they’re going to get calls. We’ve just got to come out aggressive and ready to fight.”

Interesting comments for a team that is third in the NBA in defensive rating and 13th in offense.

Gobert is frustrated as Utah has dropped four of its last five, and the slump has been on both ends of the court. The defense has struggled, but if guys are looking to score too much they aren’t doing it efficiently because the offense has been worse.

This slide likely costs Utah home court in the first round, which could matter in what will be a tight matchup with Los Angeles. Utah needs to find its grinding rhythm again heading into the playoffs, at their best they can knock off the Clippers in the first round. Just not like they are playing now.

One thing to watch, Utah’s Gordon Hayward asked out of the game in the fourth quarter due to what is being called a bruised muscle in his leg. If he misses any time or if this lingers, it could be trouble for the Jazz in the postseason.

 

LeBron James starts game with protective goggles. That lasts about a minute.

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LeBron James suffered a scratched cornea Friday night when he went up for a layup late in the third quarter and Jeremy Lamb tried to contest and caught him clean across the face. LeBron got the and-1, but had trouble keeping his eye open in postgame interviews Friday.

Saturday he did play — wearing protective goggles. As you can see above.

That lasted about a minute.

LeBron was likely frustrated as the Cavaliers defensive woes had the Wizards up double digits much of the first half.

Kobe Bryant says he’s “only a phone call away” if organization needs his advice

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For the first time since he walked off the court in his final game, Kobe Bryant was back at Staples Center Friday night.

The reason was Shaquille O’Neal was getting a statue out in front of Staples Center (a building that may not have gotten built without the two of them). The two famed feuders sat next to each other and joked around through the ceremony. Time heals all wounds.

With the new management of the Lakers — specifically Kobe’s former agent Rob Pelinka as GM — there has been speculation Kobe could take on a role. He’s not looking for something formal, according to reports, but he didn’t say no, either, when asked.

I picture Kobe as a guy who someday buys a team, not a guy who wants to haggle with agents over the details of a contract. He’s not going to take on a day-to-day role, he likes the retired life and what he is building with the Kobe brand.

That said, the Lakers front office can use all the smart voices it can get as they try speed up a rebuild. They should give him a call every once in a while.