Kirilenko opted out of the final year of his contract worth $10.2 million with the Minnesota Timberwolves this offseason in hopes of landing a multiyear deal elsewhere. But with his market dwindling, the Russian native wound up signing a two-year contract with the Nets for the taxpayer mini midlevel exception -- starting at $3.18 million. The deal includes a player option for the second year.
Given the $7 million disparity in annual salary, many rival executives reportedly wondered whether Nets owner Mikhail Prokhorov brokered some sort of side deal with Kirilenko to make up the difference. Prokhorov owned CSKA Moscow when Kirilenko played there, and the two became close.
"As I said, those type of rumors, I can't control," Kirilenko said on a conference call with reporters Thursday. "I guess it comes from the history of Russia and the KGB. I don't know what that is, what it makes people think. It makes it a little funny, but if it looks funny in those situations, what can I do?"
Kirilenko said he chose to come to the Nets because he's 32 years old and it's "time to take a shot at a title."
"I think we've got everything you need to reach that goal. I'm very happy to be in New York, and I'm looking forward to start the season," he said.
Kirilenko explained his decision to opt out.
"I opted my deal not because I wanted to sign with the Nets," he said. "At that time I was feeling I wanted to be in Minnesota for a long time, but as you know they had some changes in Minnesota, and I'm very respectful for Flip Saunders, and I respect his decision, but he decided not to want to sign me for a long time. I can't do anything with that, and that opened up all my options. I started looking at other teams and comparing situations with other teams."
Kirilenko doesn't have any regrets about opting out, even though he lost a lot of money. He says several teams were interested in him, but the Nets were the best fit.
Kirilenko is glad to play for Prokhorov's team once again.
"When he got the team, I was very happy that finally a Russian owner has team in the NBA," Kirilenko said. "I think it's a great platform for the NBA people, scouts and media looking for the Russian players, if they have the material to be in the NBA."
"Coming back to play with Deron is great. I'm expecting a great time. We had a great time back in Utah. My wife, my kids are great friends with Deron's, so they're going to have a great time. We have great chemistry, so we can use that together."
Kirilenko, a versatile player who can guard and play multiple positions, said he was concerned about his role on the team at first, but coach Jason Kidd helped ease them.
"I think having eight or 10 people who can really play on the highest level and give those minutes between each other, it's a great privilege," he said. "Not a lot of teams have that kind of depth; usually you have two or three superstars making the max, and the rest of the guys are helping them. Here, you can really have about seven or eight guys who play on the highest level possible and start in any lineup in the NBA."
Asked about where the Nets stack up in the Eastern Conference, Kirilenko said, "I'm not worried about how we're going to compete against Miami, how we're going to compete against Indiana. I bet we're going to compete.
"It's going to be a lot with how we quickly we can find the chemistry inside the team -- not only in the locker room -- because I'm not worried about the locker room; we've got great guys. I'm worried about on the floor, how quickly can we start understanding each other. So far we have guys -- I played with Deron, I know what he's doing; Paul Pierce played with KG [Kevin Garnett], he knows what he's doing – but how quick we can connect with each other and how fast we can adjust."
Kirilenko says he's comfortable coming off the bench.
"I don't have problem to come off the bench," he said. "I never have an issue. In Utah, we always talked with Jerry Sloan about that. It's never been an issue, as long as you're playing 25 to 30 minutes a game."
Mike Mazzeo is a regular contributor to ESPNNewYork.com.