Feb 6, 2013; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Minnesota Timberwolves center Nikola Pekovic (14) against the San Antonio Spurs at the Target Center. The Spurs defeated the Timberwolves 104-94. Mandatory Credit: Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports

Pekovic RFA Looms Large

The news that Joan Niessen is leaving Fox Sports North to cover the Los Angeles Clippers for Fox Sports West has come as a blow to most Wolves fans who have been paying attention. She’s done great things for Wolves coverage and will be missed. But before she goes, it’s interesting (or ironic) to note that she has written a nice piece on the value of traditional centers in the NBA and the fact that they are traditionally overpaid. (DeAndre Jordan, anyone?)

My favorite quote would be this:
Winning doesn’t come cheap, and it doesn’t often come by bucking trends for no reason other than a strapped checkbook.
To me, that is a succinct way of saying to Glen Taylor: pay that man his money or sell the team to someone who wants a winner, and that’s exactly how the Pek negotiations should be played by the media after years of cost cutting and failure. Anyway, here’s a heavy excerpt of the last half of Joan’s article:
There are plenty of arguments, and valid ones at that, for not paying Pekovic. There’s the notion of his health, the fact that he’s on pace to play in about 65 games this season if he finishes out the year missing only two more games. There’s the fact that this is just his second year of effective play, which makes for a very small sample size to evaluate. There’s the worry that this year’s numbers are inflated by Love’s absence. There’s the team’s current salary situation on top of all that, in which it has $14.7 million locked up on Love next season and $10.2 on Andrei Kirilenko, and the assumption that Minnesota will want to lock Rubio into a max deal in little more than a year. That’s a lot of money to contend with, and the nickels and dimes of the thing might be the best argument against Pekovic.
But despite all that, despite the uncertainty and the punitive nature of the new CBA, re-signing the big man might still be the best option. The arguments for it might not match those against it in number, but they certainly do in magnitude, and precedent weighs much heavier than even the notion that there’s no one on the market to take his place.
It seems almost laughable, at face value, to pay a guy in the neighborhood of $12 million just because that’s what other teams have done for other players, but that’s the state of the NBA, and if the Timberwolves want to migrate from the have-nots into the realm of the haves, paying Pekovic is a step in the right direction. Winning doesn’t come cheap, and it doesn’t often come by bucking trends for no reason other than a strapped checkbook.
This season, there are 25 players not currently in their rookie deals who were considered teams’ starting centers to begin the season. Those 25 players make an average of $10.9 million this season. An average, and it’s hard to argue with the notion that despite his flaws, Pekovic is an above-average center. Of those 25, 11 make $12 million or more, and only six make less than $8 million, and it’s reasonable to believe that Pekovic falls in the upper range of that middle ground.
So precedent says Pekovic will be paid. Precedent also says that his nagging injuries may be a worry but that they won’t necessarily cut his paycheck. Looking back at the last 82-game season, 2010-11, and the players who were designated as starting centers, such players played in an average of just 61 games. Injuries are a real concern at the position, with those massive bodies masking a special kind of fragility, and sometimes just the hope that a player plays three-quarters of the season is enough for big money. Look at Bynum, who will miss all of this season after being traded to Philadelphia last summer and who will likely command a max deal – and from those very 76ers – when all is said and done this offseason.
By comparison, at least, the Timberwolves can count themselves lucky. Unlike Philadelphia, their big man hasn’t been so injured, nor will he necessitate a payout of quite that magnitude. Perhaps they should remember that going forward, and perhaps they should become cognizant of one trite little saying: It is what it is.
Centers may be overpaid. Centers may be injury-prone. But to let one get away because of that when you’re a team inching your way toward relevance might be the worst idea yet.

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Tags: Free Agency Nikola Pekovic Restricted Free Agency

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