What Kirilenko Means for the Nets

The Russian connection has landed the Nets their first value asset of the offseason in the form of Andrei Kirilenko. It’s strange to say, but Kirilenko legitimizes the Nets’ offseason plans to spend all the money in search of a title. Acquiring Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce was a start, but adding Kirilenko, and to a lesser extent bringing back Andray Blatche, shows that Brooklyn is capable of adding quality depth.

The title window for this team will remain open for one or two years at most, and when this all falls apart it may be brutal. Owner Mikhail Prokhorov promised to bring in a title within five years, and in attempting to make good on that promise has traded away several of the team’s upcoming draft picks. Of course, it’s possible Prokhorov is willing to pay the prohibitive repeater tax forever, but an extra $100 million a year is a lot of money, even for him.

That’s the future though, and the Nets are focused exclusively on the present. Kirilenko brings defense and flexibility, both of which will be key next season.

Brooklyn’s defense ranked 18th in efficiency in 2012, tied with the dysfunctional Lakers. Kris Humphries and Reggie Evans contributed to that ranking, but one of the biggest problems was the center duo of Blatche and Brook Lopez, neither of whom is an effective defensive anchor. Lopez manages to block shots, but he struggles defending in space on the pick and roll, which good teams will again look to exploit.

Garnett’s presence will do a lot to help this, but at this point in his career, he’s only good for about 30 minutes a night, and is likely to miss 15-20 games. In his absence, the defense is likely to suffer. Kirilenko’s defensive intensity won’t solve that problem, but it will help. There are some potentially devastating defensive small-ball lineups with Garnett and Kirilenko at new coach Jason Kidd’s disposal that could be very effective against teams like the Miami Heat. One addition Brooklyn could use is a reserve big who can protect the rim and bang down low.

Kirilenko’s flexibility may be even more beneficial than his defense given the age and general breakability of certain members of the roster. He can slot in at either the 3 or 4, and may see a lot of time at the power forward given that both Pierce and Joe Johnson are better off at small forward these days.

Brooklyn’s bench will be very important to this team, both as a reserve unit and in slotting in for injured starters. Jason Terry, added in the trade with Boston for Pierce and Garnett, will be able to play more shooting guard with Deron Williams‘ new backup Shaun Livingston in the mix. At 6’7”, Livingston can cross match defensively, taking Terry’s man and saving him from getting battered on post-ups. This arrangement will also benefit Terry on the other side of the ball, where he won’t have to worry about setting up the 2nd unit’s offense.

Up front, Kirilenko, Evans, and Blatche should provide an interesting mix of skills, although again one would like to see a move to get a rim protector on the cheap.

There is a lot of potential for this team, and there is every possibility that they can make a deep run in the playoffs. Unfortunately, the classic “If they stay healthy” disclaimer looms very large for them. Even if they do manage to get through the season without losing a key player, it will be tough at times to find spacing for the offense without more knockdown shooters. The Nets clearly understand this weakness, as demonstrated by their failed pursuit of Kyle Korver.

The biggest problem, however, is that no one involved here is getting any younger. Of the expected 10-man rotation guys, only three are under 30. One of them is Livingston, who has never fully recovered from his terrifying knee injury of several years ago, one is Lopez, who struggles with foot and ankle problems, and the other is Blatche.

It would appear that too many things have to fall into place for Prokhorov to be standing at the podium accepting the Larry O’Brien Trophy come June, but stranger things have happened.