I am looking for Andrei Kirilenko, but he is hard to find. This should not be the case because Kirilenko is a 6-foot-9 Russian. He should either be on a basketball court or in a James Bond movie. I have searched the basketball courts and movie theaters. No Kirilenko.
The 76ers are not helping at all. They traded for Kirilenko this month and I see his smiling face on the roster page of their website. The blue and red of the team colors have been drawn onto the uniform top he is wearing in the photo. Kirilenko is number 47, as he has always been during his 13 seasons in the NBA. That's part of his "AK-47" nickname, which someone came up with in reference to the Kalashnikov rifle, although at this point of his career Kirilenko isn't even a pop gun. In fact, you can't find him.
There is an equipment manager for the Sixers and I am tempted to track him down and ask if Kirilenko's No. 47 jerseys have been ordered and have arrived. Maybe the jerseys are stuck in production because of the holiday crush or maybe they arrived misspelled - Kirelinko? Kerilenko? - and had to be sent back. That could be the holdup.
I broke a story that way once, at almost exactly this time of year. The Sixers were bringing back Jeff Ruland for a second try after five years out of basketball. (He had undergone rehabilitation surgery that basically involved taking a Black & Decker drill to his kneecaps and then some sort of stuff oozes out and forms fake cartilage around the knee joints. I mean, what could go wrong with that plan?) The Sixers were all hush-hush about it, but the equipment guy told me that owner Harold Katz had approved the order of two home and two away jerseys and that was good enough for me.
Ruland would eventually play 13 more games for the Sixers, with large breaks in between some of them, and I wrote the original story of his return on the same cold December night that Charles Barkley rearranged some guy's nose on the street in Milwaukee. That story took more work.
My guess is that Kirilenko's jerseys are never going to arrive. The Sixers will only say that he has not joined the team because of "personal reasons." This is a smart thing to say, because then - who knows? - maybe that's true and when we find out, boy, won't we feel bad for making fun of the whole thing? In the true spirit of the season, I'm willing to take that risk.
I think Kirilenko's personal problem is that he personally doesn't want to play basketball any longer and, even if he did, he wouldn't want to be playing it for the Philadelphia 76ers. Kirilenko played his first 10 seasons with Utah, then one with Minnesota (with a year in the Russian league in between), before going to the Nets and suffering through a disappointing season last year that was limited by back spasms.
This season, he played 37 minutes spread over seven games for the Nets, took five shots from the field and didn't make any of them. Brooklyn coach Lionel Hollins had no further use for him and general manager Billy King, whose team is trying to get out of luxury tax jail, looked desperately for someone to take Kirilenko's $3,326,235 salary off his books. Hello, Sixers.
The Sixers have room to allow Kirilenko to essentially retire and still get paid. In fact, even with recent transactions that added the salaries of Kirilenko, Ronny Turiaf and Jorge Gutierrez - while excising that of Alexey Shved and Brandon Davies - the Sixers are still nearly $17 million below the NBA's salary-cap floor. Somebody has to get that money before the season is over, so the store is open for any team who wants to dump a salary in exchange for something of value, which is usually another of those fabulous second-round picks that Sam Hinkie collects so avidly.
In the Shved-for-Turiaf trade, which preceded the Turiaf season-ending hip surgery by one day, the Sixers picked up a 2015 second-round pick from Houston. They also got the rights to a rather mediocre Ukranian player named Sergei Lishouk, whose name, due to disagreements concerning translation from the ancient Cyrillic, is alternately spelled Lischuk and Lishchuk. His jersey could be both a major problem and an international incident.
In the Davies-for-Kirilenko-and-Gutierrez trade, the Sixers got Brooklyn's 2020 second-round pick(!) and the right to have the better pick between the 2018 second-rounders held by the two teams(!!).
Well, it is those transactions that can set a team up for the future. In fact, the trades were so exciting they obscured the news that Furkan Aldemir returned, played one game and is now out with plantar fasciitis. I'm pretty sure about that, although it could be that Plantar Fasciitis returned and is now out with furkan aldemir.
In any case, the store will remain open and the Sixers will continue to fill that $17 million gap with players who will never play in exchange for draft picks that will be used on players who will never play - or not very much. Whatever shortfall is left at the end of the season has to be distributed on a pro rata basis to the Sixers roster, the guys who are actually going through this dreadful experience. Every time Hinkie pulls one of these deals, those miserable souls essentially take a pay cut. Oh, well.
So the search for Andrei Kirilenko continues. His agent didn't call me back. Hinkie didn't respond to a request to talk about it. Billy King wasn't available. Come to think of it, I can't find anyone. I will continue to try, though. Kirilenko is a 6-9 Russian. Those should be really hard to lose.