It came up again, not surprisingly, Thursday as Andrei Kirilenko was officially introduced as a member of the Nets, complete with the two-year free-agent deal that has become the stuff of international intrigue.
Talks of a conspiracy theory was an easy jump to make the instant Russian Kirilenko signed with the Nets, owned by Russian Mikhail Prokhorov, at a massive pay cut. AK-47 opted out of his 2013-14 Timberwolves contract worth $10 million for $3.1 million in Brooklyn, plus a second season at a player option. It was actually easy long before this, the way the NBA had no real chance to follow the money in the former Soviet Union. The natural connection with Kirilenko brought it to the forefront, but truthfully, there likely would have been concerns about secret deals with a non-Russian player at some point.
It was so easy that several executives – anonymously, of course – made accusations without evidence, at least evidence they would be keeping to themselves.
That’s when it became a problem. Speculation from media and fans is one thing, but being called a cheat by opponents is another. But there they were, as originally detailed by Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports:
“Let’s see if the league has any credibility,” one owner said. “It’s not about stopping it. It’s about punishing them if they’re doing it.”
“There should be a probe,” an Eastern Conference GM added. “How obvious is it?”
How convenient to be able to accuse someone of the serious charge of circumventing the salary cap without having to show your face. Or hand over evidence.
What I would give to be in their office the day another team drops the same insinuation on them.
History has shown that assumptions are a bad idea and that owners from the United States are perfectly capable of breaking rules. But Kirilenko faced the insinuation Thursday in a conference call with reporters, saying, as detailed by Stefan Bondy of the New York Daily News.
“I can’t do anything with what people think. I’m coming from the facts,” said Kirilenko. “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?”