The Brooklyn Nets were investigated by the NBA after surreptitiously agreeing on a deal with Russian free agent Andrei Kirilenko in July. They have now been cleared of any wrongdoing, according to Fred Kerber of the New York Post. Kirilenko inked a deal for substantially less than he would have made if he’d opted-in on the final year of his deal with the Timberwolves, and his surface connection with Brooklyn’s Russian owner, Mikhail Prokhorov, had many league executives whispering about underhanded dealings.
Kirilenko signed with the Nets for $3.1 million this year, with a player option for around $3.3 million in 2014-15, using the Nets’ mini-midlevel exception. If he’d played out of the last year of his contract with the Timberwolves, he would have earned roughly $10 million. The salary disconnect is what prompted a formal complaint to the league and their ensuing probe.
“When there is a formal complaint, the league will look into it,” said one league official who spoke in generalities and refused comment on the Kirilenko issue.
The league launched its investigation, questioning participants. Nets officials were summoned — at one point on a weekend, usually a time off in the summer for league execs.
“It was a very, very thorough investigation,” one source maintained. “They checked everything.”
Kirlenko’s agent, Marc Fleisher, spoke to the Post, but only mentioned the offer while neglecting to even acknowledge the inquiry by the league.
“Basically, the offers and things we had from other teams were too difficult to make happen,” Fleisher said, referring to the necessity of a possible sign-and-trade or complicated deal.
In the end, the chance to play with a valid contender, even for considerably less money, was the final tipping point.
“That was huge,” Fleisher said, “especially once he realized some of the other [offers] weren’t going to happen.”
Prohorov was considered by many observers as the culprit behind the cheap deal because he shares Kirilenko’s Russian lineage; the signing prompted multiple Cold War jokes to percolate to the surface of our brain. The Russian billionaire owner released a statement through his spokesperson, which reiterated what he said at the time of the signing when the murmurings of foul play first bubbled to the surface.
A spokesperson for Prokhorov said the owner had nothing to add “to what Mikhail’s said already” regarding the Kirilenko deal. Prokhorov addressed the matter in July when the Nets introduced trade acquisitions Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Jason Terry. Kirilenko was vacationing and not available for the press gathering at Barclays Center, which Prokhorov flew in from Russia to attend.
“Old stereotypes, they’re very hard to beat and to break,” Prokhorov said of the suspicious eye cast upon a Russian dealing with a Russian. “I respect all the NBA rules and we play by the NBA rules. But I want just to stress once again, like with luxury tax, I will do whatever I can in order to win championship — but under the NBA rules. Please make no mistake about this.”
Forbes’ annual 400 list did not include Prokhorov because he’s Russian, but he’s estimated to be worth $13.5 billion, making him the second wealthiest NBA owner behind Microsoft co-founder and Portland Trail Blazers owner Paul Allen.
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