If I Can Change, And You Can Change, Everybody Can Change

By now (you know, a day and a half later), the news of Andrei Kirilenko's English interview with KSL 5 of Salt Lake City is too old to print. However, instead of analyzing the greatness of quotes like "I want to burn on the floor," I'd like to take this post to commend AK for his tremendous analysis of the situation, to explain how I think this interview guards him against all relevant criticism of his trade demand, and to wildly predict that his comments represent a potentially huge step in how athletes approach their trade demands. His most important quotes have been reproduced elsewhere, but I've pasted them here for your pleasure and convenience:

"I don't know. I'm stuck in this situation. ... I just want him to help me again and help the team."

"I don't want to be an anchor for the team. ... Right now, I feel like an anchor, game-wise and money-wise. I want Jazz to be as happy as possible."

"[Jerry Sloan's] one of the best coaches in the world... It seems like I'm on a different page with the coach."

"Sometimes we don't know how to help each other."

"He is who he is. I don't want to change him. He's made himself as a coach like this. I want to wish him the best and success as a coach."

"I never said I want to be first option on the team. ... I think Deron, I think Carlos [Boozer], I think Memo [Okur], even Matt [Harpring], I think they, even more than me, are valuable offensively. I'm ready for that. But I'm not ready to be ignored at all."

To a certain extent, his reasoning here resembles that of a boyfriend or girlfriend who, after saying some nasty things at the beginning of a fight/breakup, reverses course and tries the "it's not you, it's me" approach with the hope of smoothing things over in the relationship's last moments. I don't doubt that AK harbors some of these feelings, but he seems too sincere for that to be his primary intent.

What impresses me most about these comments is that Kirilenko has looked at this situation from all sides; in a way, he wrote the definitive take on his own trade demand, rendering all other accounts superfluous. He understands that he has limited skills, but he knows that he's pretty damn good at what he does and can help another team (i.e. one that would use him with more attention to his skills) immensely. Consequently, he still has at least trade value, and the Jazz could probably get some nice pieces in return. It's extremely rare for a professional athlete -- or, more accurately, a really good professional athlete -- to take stock of his talents and limitations so honestly. That self-awareness necessarily blunts the claims that he's being arrogant and selfish. Essentially, he's now the anti-Drago.

AK's explanation of his relationship with Sloan is just as interesting in that it shows just how willing he is to make concessions to someone with whom he has an awful working relationship. By admitting that Sloan is a legendary coach -- and this is the really important part -- who still commands a great deal of respect and did a great job with last year's team, Kirilenko presents this disagreement as an issue of poor fit and respectful philosophical debate, not of macho posturing and O'Reilly Factor-style argument. Both sides retain their good points, leading to a friendly split and at least moderately happy ending for both sides.

While I think AK's tactics here are incredibly useful, he's still open to certain kinds of criticism. For instance, he still demanded a trade, so anyone who decries a player for lack of loyalty would have to apply that critique in this case. In this way, Shoals's recent point about the double standard in reaction to trade demands still holds. However, if you like to look at both sides of the issue and see how that player came to that decision -- if you can't tell, that's what I prefer -- then I don't think there's much of importance that can be thrown back in Kirilenko's face here.

But I don't want to stop with just AK's situation, because I think this interview has implications for future trade demands. If more players would take this path with the media, I think we'd see far fewer knee-jerk reactions of the "he's just being disloyal" sort. Not only would that lead to better situations for the players and teams involved, but media discussion would necessarily focus on the nuances of each case in addition to the generalities. It's probably unrealistic to expect extremely talented people to criticize themselves in an open forum on a regular basis, but some progress seems possible.

Before I go, a bit of important news: true Plissken OG commenter Ben Q. Rock (the archives say he commented twice on our first-ever substantive post) has taken his excellent Orlando Magic blog Third Quarter Collapse over to the collective at SB Nation. Anyone with even a passing interest in the NBA (so, you know, everyone reading this right now) should check it out. Congrats to Ben on the new, well-deserved gig.


Doctor Dribbles said...

Hey, well-put piece. I still can't rush to commend Kirilenko--there were more tactful ways to make his trade demands originally known--but at least he's trying to rationalize his way out of Salt Lake.

Also, boo on anyone who mocks Kirilenko's crying jag last year. The guy was emotional because--despite getting paid a fortune--he wants to play and play well. Basically, Kirilenko cares, and in a league where players are quick to mail it in over 82 games and turn their effort on and off based on contract status, that's a commodity in its own right.

Ty Keenan said...

I basically agree with you. I wish he'd handled the trade demand in this way originally, but I think this is a damn good way of taking care of his business now.

I should also admit that I'm biased -- he's one of my favorite players in the league.

Ben Q. Rock said...

I hope AK bounces back this year as well. My solution calls for the Jazz to trade Okur, put Boozer at center and play AK at the four. Ideally, the Jazz would get a star-quality shooting guard in return, somebody a bit better than Gordan Giricek and Jason Hart.

I also have AK on my fantasy team, so...

Ty Keenan said...

That team would be ridiculously unSloan -- there's about zero chance of them playing Boozer at the five. Your general point makes sense though, why can't they run? Honestly, I think they could make this lineup work if Sloan played to his personnel and ran more. But I'm highly doubtful of that ever happening.

The new stuff today on AK playing some at the point sounds unrealistic to me. They didn't give Jason Hart the contract they did to have him be the third option.