After his emotional breakdown, two-seasons ago against the Houston Rockets in the 1st round of the 2007 playoffs, Andrei Kirilenko has had to prove that he's more than just an average role player.
Since then (and even since 2004, when he signed his contract), AK hasn't overcome the stigma that has accompanied his play (average). More has been expected of him. And truly, he hasn't justified the salary that he was paid.
The Deseret News quoted Jerry Sloan in regard to AK47 and his role on the Jazz, even comparing him to the goofy and somewhat unusually-mannered Greg Ostertag by saying:
"Sometimes money gets in the way of other people's thoughts about players," the Jazz coach said.
"It's kind of like when we had (center Greg) Ostertag. Ostertag got a big contract, and they expected him to play like (Kareem Abdul-) Jabbar. Well, he wasn't. And that happens with a lot of people sometimes."
It can't be overstated of how money changes our perspectives of people. The D-News goes further into describing Andrei's salary by saying: "At slightly more than $15 million per year, Kirilenko makes about $3.5 million more than next-closest teammate Boozer. He's due $16.45 million next season and $17.82 million in 2010-11. At the time he signed his current $86 million contract extension in 2004, it was a max-money deal." Thus, our perception and expectation of AK has almost certainly outgrown the 'real-time' true reality (decent to average role player).
All of this stated, notwithstanding, Andrei Kirilenko has got to be seen as the difference-maker in this series versus the Lakers. His defense against Kobe, his full-court scoring style, and the intangibles he provides on the floor can't be undervalued during this series. If AK plays out-of-his-mind... then we might just have a 'smidgen' of a chance. Go Jazz!