On Thursday evening the Brooklyn Nets signed Russian forward Andrei Kirilenko to a one-year, $3.1 million contract, a deal far below what the 32-year-old was looking for from other teams. Now, rival franchises around the NBA are crying foul, alleging that some kind of side deal was made between the Nets and Kirilenko to get him to sign so far below his market value. As other teams push for the league office to investigate, things could get ugly.
As soon as Russian billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov bought the Nets, many expected that the team would engage in some shady business operations. After all, Prokhorov himself admits that he built his fortune by working in the grey areas of society in Russia. Now we actually have an example of a player taking far less money than he was looking for on the open market, and other teams aren’t buying that Kirilenko just wanted to chase a championship with the Nets.
Yahoo!’s Adrian Wojnarowski explains the reactions from around the NBA:
Within the NBA, there had long been those promising that deals would start popping up involving Prokhorov that made no fiscal sense, theorizing that high-end players could take less within the constraints of the salary cap and still make up the difference in clandestine pacts.
Once the Russian billionaire convinced a superb Russian player to take $7 million less to be a backup to (Paul) Pierce, the rest of the NBA’s reaction was instant and uproarious. For the first time now, the Nets have truly arrived as a contending franchise. They’re good, with a chance to be great, and the rest of the NBA wants an investigation.
Wojnarowski quotes a Western Conference general manager who called the deal “Brazen,” and one league owner said “Let’s see if the league has any credibility. It’s not about stopping it. It’s about punishing them if they’re doing it.” An Eastern Conference general manager also said, “There should be a probe. How obvious is it?”
Kirilenko made $10 million with the Minnesota Timberwolves last season and opted out of his contract to hit free agency this summer, then turned down more lucrative deals from other clubs to join the Nets. Kirilenko and Prokhorov have a previous relationship, since the defensive-minded forward once played for CSKA Moscow, a team Prohorov owned at the time.
Clearly Prokhorov is willing to spend to win a title as the Nets now have a $101 million payroll for next season and could pay as much as $82 million in luxury tax. But until someone finds out if there really was a side deal with Kirilenko this is all just speculation, no matter how bad it looks.