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Kirilenko aims high

Jazz forward Andrei Kirilenko fields questions at a press conference after signing a new six-year $86 million-plus contract with the Jazz. Team owner Larry Miller looks on.
Jazz forward Andrei Kirilenko fields questions at a press conference after signing a new six-year $86 million-plus contract with the Jazz. Team owner Larry Miller looks on.
Douglas C. Pizac, Associated Press

Not just a star but a superstar — like John Stockton and Karl Malone. A player that youngsters like Kris Humphries and Kirk Snyder will look to and model themselves after.

Andrei Kirilenko, still only 23 himself, expects to be those things and more for the Utah Jazz franchise. Even though he asked for a maximum six-year, $86 million-plus contract extension that he signed Friday afternoon at the Zions Bank Basketball Center, he said he is "not max player" right now.

"I want to keep on going to the next level — don't be star, be a superstar like John and Karl," Kirilenko said. "Bring back a Finals game to Salt Lake City."

"We'll build it together," Kirilenko added about a franchise that has a core of young players with high potential like Carlos Boozer, Mehmet Okur and Carlos Arroyo, who also recently signed Jazz contracts.

The big money will not change his work ethic or his desire to improve, Kirilenko said.

He vividly remembers when he first came in three years ago and saw Stockton and Malone outworking everyone else, despite their ages. Kirilenko said as a rookie he should have been the first one in the weight room every morning before practices, and he tried to be. But Malone always beat him. And when he would try to outrun Stockton, he couldn't do it despite his youth.

Those things impressed him, and he said he will try to pass them on.

And lest he ever think he's made it with the contract extension the Jazz gave him after a couple months of haggling with his agent, coach Jerry Sloan is always there to keep his head out of the clouds.

Sloan said he's happy for Kirilenko, who signed the biggest contract in franchise history, but hopes "he will start to play a little bit better" now that the worry of getting the deal done is out of the way.

"We're going to ask a little bit more of you," chided Sloan from his seat next to Kirilenko, on center stage with Miller.

Miller doesn't seem to think things could be much better on Kirilenko's part, and the owner said that's one reason he could part with max money for Kirilenko. "I appreciated his attitude," Miller said. "That's why he earned it. . . . He's brought a lot of excitement."

Miller also said that he took a little Russian language in high school, enough to be able to say a few words to Kirilenko. One of them has no English counterpart but essentially means a good person doing good. He yells that word, "molodesc," at Kirilenko during games. Once, when Kirilenko was not playing well, he yelled the word at him to motivate him. To show what type of person Kirilenko is, said Miller, the versatile youngster later told him, "Don't call me that when I don't earn it."

Kirilenko is good with staff, media and fans and says he plans to use some of his new money to help his Kirilenko's Kids charity in Russia. He said he looks around Utah and sees good hospitals and no orphanages, and it's quite the opposite in his homeland. He'd like to make some difference in that area. He also notes the recreational basketball facility that Stockton built in Spokane and says he'd like to start a chain of such arenas in Russia.

For Miller and the Jazz brass, this record deal plus the $68 million promised to Boozer, $50 million to Okur, and other offseason agreements with Carlos Arroyo, Jarron Collins and Gordan Giricek that add up to nearly a $250 million commitment "make a very loud statement to this market that we will not take a backseat to anybody."

While last season's overachieving team kept most of Utah interested, Miller said he recently felt a slight drop-off in support and willingness to kick in advertising or other revenue. "It's our job to present a product that fills the Delta Center and sells all the signage," Miller said.

"It's not cosmetic," agreed Kevin O'Connor, senior vice president of basketball operations, whose personal opinion of a max player is one who's always getting better and at his best near the end of his contract.

As for having put all the pieces in place over the summer, O'Connor says, "Let the season begin."

It will begin at 8:30 p.m. Wednesday when the Los Angeles Lakers hit the Delta Center.

JAZZ NOTES: O'Connor said that, because of their recent injury situations, the team will probably take until the last few minutes of Sunday's deadline to pick up next season's options on Curtis Borchardt and Raul Lopez. Lopez will spend Sunday having his sore knee re-evaluated by the doctor who did the surgery on it in Florida . . . O'Connor also said the Jazz will keep 7-foot-3 Aleksandar Radojevic around for at least a couple more days . . . Miller was asked during the Kirilenko press conference whether all this outgoing cash means he's keeping the team or ready to sell. He reiterated that several years ago, during a depressing period, he thought about divesting himself of it, but his sons asked for the chance to own the team, so it has stayed here. He also said, "Serious offers come three to five times a year" for the franchise, but the money is so big he can't think about it and blows off the idea."


E-mail: lham@desnews.com