Kirilenko was quoted as being critical of Kidd in an interview with Russian tabloid newspaper SovSport in its Sunday editions. His comments were translated by multiple American media outlets.
“It sounds in the article like I have a negativity [about Jason leaving], but that’s completely untrue,” Kirilenko told ESPNNewYork.com Monday by telephone. “We’ve been discussing why it happened -- because I don’t know why it happened -- but we’re just speculating. We don’t know what the real reason is from Jason’s point-of-view.”
“It’s tough to kind of judge him because he obviously came into a lot of pressure,” Kirilenko said. “New York is a city with a lot of legends and a lot of history, and every move you make is under a microscope. So I guess it’s easier for the coach to start [fresh] with a younger group of guys, with his own vision, in a smaller city where you don’t have that much pressure. And I think that’s what Jason’s doing now.”
Kidd was named head coach of the Nets last offseason just weeks after announcing his retirement as a player. The Nets, besieged by injury and struggling to adapt to Kidd’s system, got off to a 10-21 start. But they turned it around, going 34-17 the rest of the way and reaching the second round of the playoffs, where they were eliminated in five games by the Miami Heat.
In late June, Kidd approached Russian ownership about adding final say in player personnel decisions to his head coaching duties, but that request was denied. The Nets then granted Kidd permission to speak with the Bucks. Brooklyn ultimately traded Kidd’s coaching rights to Milwaukee in exchange for a pair of future second-round picks. The Nets quickly hired Lionel Hollins to replace Kidd.
Kirilenko signed a two-year contract with the Nets for $6.5 million, but he was plagued by injuries and sporadic playing time in his first season in Brooklyn. The 33-year-old, who gladly accepted a reserve role after being a starter throughout his career, missed 37 games during the regular season -- mostly due to back issues. He wasn’t able to have the same impact on the court that he did when playing for the Utah Jazz and Minnesota Timberwolves.
“It’s tough when you’re sitting on the bench and you don’t have a chance to help your teammates,” said Kirilenko, who lives in Europe during the offseason. “But when I came to the team I was ready for this, and I spoke with Jason right at the beginning of the year, and I knew what I was sacrificing. We had a goal and all those veteran pieces came together, but sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t.”
Kirilenko, who opted into the second year of his contract for 2014-15, said he believes the Nets will be able to come back stronger this season.
“I think we still have the same goals,” Kirilenko said of the Nets trying to make a championship run. “I think we lost a key piece in Paul Pierce, but I still think with Brook [Lopez] healthy we can make that run.”
Kirilenko says he has not had much of a chance to speak with Hollins just yet, but spoke highly of his new head coach.
“[Lionel is] known as a defensive specialist,” said Kirilenko, who can guard multiple positions. “I know he was great in Memphis and built a great system, which they still play there with a lot of ball movement, using their bigs a lot, not just playing through the post but using them as passers kind of like what Chicago is doing with [Joakim] Noah right now. It’s very unselfish basketball, which I love to play. I like it, and hopefully we can do the same in Brooklyn.”
Kirilenko said that currently nothing is bothering him injury-wise. He plans to really ratchet up his training in August, when he’ll get in a lot of conditioning drills. Then in September prior to training camp, Kirilenko expects to participate in more basketball-related activities at the team’s practice facility in East Rutherford, New Jersey.
Kirilenko does not care whether he will start or come off the bench this season. He just wants to stay healthy, capitalize on his role and receive consistent minutes. He said it was tough to find a rhythm last season when he’d come off the bench and play only 8-10 minutes. “But as I said, no complaints. I knew what was going on. Jason and I talked,” Kirilenko added.
Kirilenko ultimately decided that Brooklyn was the place he wanted to stay.
“I loved everything except our final result,” he said. “The organization has been great. The city is beautiful. My kids had already went to school here and it’s hard to move from place to place.”
One player Kirilenko is looking forward to playing with is Sergey Karasev, a 20-year-old guard who was acquired by the Nets from the Golden State Warriors in the trade that brought Jarrett Jack to Brooklyn.
“I’ve known Sergey since he was 8-years-old. I played with his dad. That’s how old I am,” Kirilenko said with a laugh.
Kirilenko loves that Karasev already a high basketball IQ at such a young age.
“He can really read the game, and that’s something I really appreciate in players,” Kirilenko said. “Now the rest is up to him. With the NBA, it’s about putting in the time at practice before the season, and that’s on him.”
Kirilenko has not spoken with Kevin Garnett, but says he already misses his teammate, and definitely wants him back. All indications are that Garnett will play in his 20th season, though he has not announced his intentions to do so publicly.
Ultimately, Kirilenko feels like the Nets have a great chance this season.
“We kept our main core,” Kirilenko said, referring to Lopez, Deron Williams and Joe Johnson. “And I’m pretty sure that next season we’re gonna be more successful, but we need to get everybody healthy.”
Kirilenko said he has not spoken to Nets owner Mikhail Prokhorov this offseason. Told that Prokhorov wanted Brooklyn to win a championship by 2015 or else he’d get married, Kirilenko joked, “Getting married is nothing [Kirilenko has been married for several years to his wife Masha and has two sons]. It’s just a technicality. He can get married in Las Vegas in one hour. But I hope we can deliver on his promise. We’ll certainly do our best.”