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Jazz, Andrei need to compromise

The quotes are as jarring as anything Karl Malone ever uttered, considering the source.

Andrei Kirilenko — the happy Russian — is saying he's impatient, anxious, frustrated. He wants a contract extension before the end of the month.

Malone made a hobby out of this sort of complaining. But Kirilenko?

Nyet!

The Jazz have 11 days to agree to terms with their star player or risk losing him as a restricted free agent next summer. Utah could match any outside offer he receives, but there's a catch — another team may frontload a deal to make it difficult for the Jazz to do so.

Could the Jazz lose Kirilenko? Considering the fact Carlos Boozer was once a restricted free agent . . .

Which means the Jazz and Kirilenko should stop trying to stare one another down and come to an agreement. Now. Before it turns ugly.

Is there something in the collective bargaining agreement that says contract negotiations have to be unseemly?

At the moment, the sides are stalled. The Jazz are offering Kirilenko a six-year, approximately $76 million contract extension. Kirilenko and his agent are seeking the maximum $86 million deal.

On one hand, the Jazz don't need to do anything. They can wait until next summer, when Kirilenko's contract expires, to match any offer. There's even a chance once the collective bargaining agreement is redone next year, contract lengths will be reduced. Waiting might save the Jazz millions in guaranteed money.

As talented as Kirilenko is, he should remember Karl Malone and John Stockton didn't get maximum deals until after nearly two decades of All-Star level play. Right now, he has the same number of All-Star appearances as Mark Eaton — who never got a "max" deal of any sort.

The Jazz are vastly deeper than in the past, which means Kirilenko's departure would hurt but not destroy them. Matt Harpring could fill the starting small forward spot nicely.

On the other hand, Kirilenko is a true star who deserves the same as Memphis' Pau Gasol, who landed a "max deal" for a player with his experience. Although Stockton and Malone worked for years below market value, expecting Kirilenko to do the same is probably unrealistic.

Losing their best player would make the Jazz less versatile and deep — not to mention less marketable.

There are no bad guys in this scenario, so far. Unlike the presidential debates, it hasn't become personal. But the longer things continue, the more the relationship deteriorates. It's a law of nature. As negotiations drag, the team begins to feel the player is selfish and money-hungry. The player feels the management is cheap and dishonest. Both sides question the other's integrity.

Before that happens, the sides should acknowledge they're only $10 million apart. The Jazz could offer $5 million more than they would prefer, and Kirilenko could agree to play for $5 million less than he hoped — about $81 million.

Over the life of the contract, the parties would each be giving up an average of $833,000 a year.

That's lunch money in NBA terms.

Eight-hundred-and-thirty-three-thousand dollars doesn't buy what it used to. It gets you a year's worth of Brian Scalabrine or Zoran Planinic (New Jersey), Adrian Griffin (Chicago), Eddie House (Charlotte) or Brian Cook (Lakers).

Why not spend those bucks on Kirilenko?

Good will would prevail, and neither side could truthfully say it was cheated.

It's not worth the savings to lose a player the Jazz have ticketed to become their next superstar. Nor is it worth the extra money for Kirilenko to diminish his popularity with Jazz fans, or to move to another city and learn another system.

Contract negotiations often become impossible or irreparable. That doesn't need to happen in this case. All that's needed is a bit more compromise. And recognition that in today's league, slam-dunks happen on the court, but never at the negotiating table.


E-mail: rock@desnews.com