MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Andrei Kirilenko is opting out of the final year of a contract that would have paid him $10 million next season with the Minnesota Timberwolves, making him a free agent.
Kirilenko made the decision on Saturday, the deadline that was written into the two-year, $20 million deal he signed last summer, a person with knowledge of the situation told The Associated Press. The person requested anonymity because an official announcement has not been made.
In turning down the final year of his contract with the Timberwolves, Kirilenko is instead hoping to get a little extra security with a longer term deal when the market opens on Monday.
The versatile Russian forward is coming off a rejuvenating year in which he averaged 12.4 points, 5.7 rebounds and 1.5 steals per game for the Wolves, his best season in the league since 2005-06. The 32-year-old had more spring in his step after spending the lockout year playing at home in Russia, and he flourished in Rick Adelman's free-flowing system.
But Kirilenko also missed 18 games with assorted injuries. Kirilenko was largely responsible for the Wolves' dramatic improvement on the defensive end, with Adelman enjoying the luxury of being able to put him on every position besides center, depending on who was the biggest threat on a given night.
His ability to pass and move without the ball also made him ideal for Adelman's offense, and the veteran was superb in helping countryman Alexey Shved make the transition to Minnesota for his rookie season last year.
The Wolves could try to negotiate a longer term deal — perhaps two or three years — at a reduced salary to bring Kirilenko back. Or they could use the $10 million they're saving on his contract to help pay restricted free agent center Nikola Pekovic, who is expected to get a significant offer on the open market that the Wolves will have the option of matching, and add a veteran shooting guard to a team that finished last in the league in 3-point shooting last season.
If Kirilenko does go elsewhere, he will undoubtedly be a sought-after veteran. He proved last season that he still had plenty of good basketball left in him after four years of declining production led to his decision to play 2011-12 in Russia. And any team looking for a lockdown defender and willing passer to help make a playoff push could jump at the chance to bring him into the mix.