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Andrei Kirilenko was at ease.
As widely discussed photos of his newly tattooed back made waves Monday on the Internet, the longtime Jazz forward focused on more serene images. Primarily, his wide-open future and a summer he hopes will be filled with freedom, international competition and national pride.
Just 51 days remain on Kirilenko's contract with Utah. June 30 will mark the official end of his 10-year run in Salt Lake City, leaving AK as a free agent at the same time the NBA plunges into a period of uncertainty.
But Kirilenko was diplomatic and even-keeled all season about the possibility that he will eventually reunite with the Jazz, and he was breathing even easier nearly a month removed from Utah's turmoil-filled 2010-11 campaign.
Kirilenko feels optimistic, his mind is clear and his body has healed. The latter is key. After missing Utah's final 10 games due to nagging injuries, the Russian native is healthy and plans to play for his home country in the 2011 European Basketball Championship. The tournament is scheduled from Aug. 31 to Sept. 18 in Lithuania.
"I feel pretty good," said Kirilenko, who is set to fly back to Russia this week and doesn't plan to return to the United States until August. "I was pretty close at the end of the year. But, obviously, we ended [the season] a little bit early."
Not even an inquiry about negative comments recently made by Jazz CEO Greg Miller concerning Kirilenko's injury-prone history altered his casual demeanor. Miller told a local television station that he has concerns about the veteran's durability and reluctance to play through injuries, acknowledging that he sometimes questioned whether Kirilenko could have taken the court instead of sitting on the sideline in a suit.
The injured party's response?
"I'm not paying attention to that," said Kirilenko, who missed 133 games after signing a six-year, maximum-contract extension in 2004.
Instead, he continued to focus on the positive. He referred to former teammates John Stockton and Karl Malone as two of the premier players to ever wear an NBA uniform, while praising ex-Jazz coach Jerry Sloan as one of the greatest in the game's history.
And while Kirilenko was philosophical about re-signing with Utah after a new collective-bargaining agreement is green-lighted by owners and players he replied "either, or" when asked about his desire to stay with the Jazz he is still passionate about a devoted fan base that constantly pushed him to be "a good human being."
"I had a great, great time with the Jazz," Kirilenko said. "I don't know how it's going to be in the future next year. I think my 10 years with the Jazz were beautiful, on and off the court."
One issue did slightly raise Kirilenko's blood pressure, though. A day removed from the widespread publication of his new body art a highly detailed portrait that features a knightlike warrior riding a dragonlike beast he was surprised by the attention that his full-back tattoo received.
The image, which took a couple of days to flesh out, is already a hit with his two children. And as a 30-year-old, Kirilenko believes he is entitled to his personal freedom.
"If I feel like I want [a tattoo], I get one," Kirilenko said. "It's really strange that it gets so much attention. … Ninety-nine percent of players have tattoos."
He added: "I didn't do it for the people."
At least one person respects Kirilenko's support for the arts. Jazz teammate C.J. Miles also known for his own unique style at first didn't believe the photos that he saw of the new Kirilenko. But when proof was provided, all Miles could do was nod and smile.
"If you think of AK, him getting a tattoo like, if he did get one, I didn't think that'd be the one he would get," Miles said. "So, I mean, it's cool. … He did it to the extreme."
Notes • Miles hasn't heard anything new about the Jazz picking up his team option for 2011-12.
"I'm just starting to get into my groove and get ready for next season," said Miles, who hosted a barbecue for contest winners Tuesday night at EnergySolutions Arena. Miles dealt with soreness in his left knee after the end of the 2010-11 campaign, but the pain has subsided. … Utah center Mehmet Okur has returned to Turkey and continues to make progress during his rehabilitation. Meanwhile, the Jazz's Paul Millsap, Gordon Hayward and Derrick Favors have started offseason workouts. … Utah coach Tyrone Corbin is still going through the initial stage of searching for new assistants to add to his staff. Assistants Scott Layden and Jeff Hornacek are expected to return.
Ever the diplomat
Andrei Kirilenko, responding to negative comments recently made by Utah CEO Greg Miller about his frailty and reluctance to play through injuries: "I'm not paying attention to that."
An eye on the playoffs
Like every devoted NBA fan, Andrei Kirilenko has been glued to the TV during the playoffs.
While Utah has been forced to sit out the postseason for the first time since 2006, Kirilenko has been fascinated by the high level of play.
Two series have caught his eye: Dallas' sweep of the Los Angeles Lakers and Memphis' ongoing battle with Oklahoma City. Kirilenko on the Lakers' unexpected early fall: "I think it's very interesting. Everyone really put everything on the Lakers. I think the Lakers have had their time. But, obviously, Dallas played well. They were better."