Posted by: Zach on April 9th, 2011The author's views are entirely his or her own and may not reflect the views of the Utah Jazz.
During the past several weeks, I’ve heard a whole lot of people criticizing Andrei Kirilenko. The comments are generally centered around his highly oversized contract and numerous injuries. Whether he likes it or not, he has been given a new role by Jazz fans, The Whipping Boy. That role has a history in itself. Who could forget the great Greg Ostertag, an often disappointing, sometimes infuriatingly incompetent big man. I believe he (and possibly the loss of shot-blocking Mark Eaton) is what gave rise to a burning desire in many Jazz fans to acquire a “true big man.”
Later down the road, there came along a man by the name of Carlos Boozer. His tendency to be injured what felt like most of the season and unwillingness to play defense solidified his place as the new whipping boy. Tension between the fans and himself continued to grow, and it was no surprise when he took off for Chicago without looking back. Most fans were glad to see him gone, though nobody can argue he was a great attribute to our team offensively when he was healthy.
With Boozer gone, there was no obvious frontrunner for the role. The 2010-2011 season wore on, and still nobody emerged from the flames. Raja Bell showed signs that he could be the man as he continued to do nothing every game and make the team worse. Fes drew criticism but most people who didn’t have their heads in the clouds already knew he was awful. Al Jefferson wasn’t doing well and was another promising candidate. But as the team broke down more and more, it was its leader and all-star, Deron Williams who emerged as the unlikely winner. His inability to lead on his own and often overblown clashes (the extent of which few really know) with Coach Sloan turned the hearts of Jazz fans against him. He continued to put up big numbers and put the offense on his back game after game, but a severe wrist injury rendered him unable to perform like the all-star he was. Coach Sloan’s resignation was the final straw. The media crushed Deron’s name to a pulp and the insinuating fan speculation and anger brought things to the boiling point. Our once-beloved DWill was traded away as the team continued to spiral out of control.
Now that the dust has settled on a season where the Jazz went through a record-breaking midseason collapse, the next victim seems to have emerged. Andrei Kirilenko’s inability to stay healthy when the team may have needed him most, alongside his highly-criticized max contract, may have led him to fill the role left open once again. Criticism of AK is nothing new. It’s obvious he is not the max contract player that Jazz management once thought he was, and his frequent injuries have certainly been frustrating. However, I think his contributions to this team are too often downplayed. The team’s ball movement is much better with AK on the floor. He is, at times, one of the only players moving around on offense and he is generally a pretty solid defender. He can get to the basket and knows the Jazz offense better than anyone on the team. He didn’t get his knee injury (that likely made March 23 the last game he’ll play for the season, and possibly the last game as a member of the Jazz) while tripping over a bag while going to answer the doorbell. He never tried telling everyone else what to do or blamed others for the team’s failure while not taking credit himself. He got injured diving for a loose ball. I’m not sure anyone else on the team would have gone after that ball if they were in AK’s place. The guy’s got heart. He’s had his ups and downs, but his contributions to the Jazz have been very significant. While many would be content to drive him out of the state with torches and pitchforks, I’ll miss AK if he’s gone, and I think this team would miss his abilities too. He really more of an interim whipping boy for the team right now while the season comes to a close. The question is, who will be the new whipping boy if he’s gone next year? Big Al? Devin Harris? Even Milsap? Only time will tell.
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