April 10, 2013; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Minnesota Timberwolves center Nikola Pekovic (14) dunks to score a basket against the Los Angeles Clippers during the first half at Staples Center. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

Nikola Pekovic Tops Wolves Offseason for Dummies

Fox Sports North’s new Joan Niesen gets it:

Nikola Pekovic morphed into a nearly irreplaceable asset last season and stands to return as the most promising piece on an injury-rocked roster. That’s if the Timberwolves’ new front office regime can present him a desirable contract or, if it comes to it, match another team’s offer for the 27-year-old restricted free agent. In his third year in the league, the man they call “Pek” filled the role of a traditional center — a dying breed in today’s NBA — and jostled his way to a team-high 16.3 points and 8.8 rebounds per game. He’s been purported to want a contract in the neighborhood of $10 million per year, a number that could be tough for a franchise with several big needs to fill and a collective bargaining agreement that opens opportunities for other suitors to swoop in. But a 2012-13 Pekovic plus a healthy Kevin Love could help comprise one of the NBA’s most formidable frontcourts. If new team president Flip Saunders hopes to lead the team he once coached back to the postseason, he’d be wise to keep that intact.

That’s the number one slide from Phil Ervin’s cheesy slideshow post. Pretty obvious if the new guy gets it right off the bat. Luckily, news has it (Jerry Zgoda’s twitter) the Wolves are committed to building around the Rubio-Love-Pek core.

Good news for people who like Pek news. The rest of the new Joan Niesen’s slideshow thing…

One of the biggest strikes against former president David Kahn was his inability to draft effectively (see Derrick Williams’ struggles early in his career, passing on Stephen Curry for Jonny Flynn and the lack of any meaningful contributor picked up a year ago). Thursday, June 27, 2013 presents the Timberwolves their first opportunity at reversing that pattern. Their chances of landing a top-five pick in the lottery are about the bulk of a toothpick, but this draft class isn’t so shallow that Saunders can’t fish something out: a shooter, a slasher, at the very least a guy whose name doesn’t become an afterthought two or three years from now. A shooting guard like Indiana’s Victor Oladipo (pictured) or Lehigh’s C.J. McCollum looks like the most popular option, though there’s a good chance Oladipo’s gone by the time Minnesota’s on the clock. Georgia guard Kentavious Caldwell-Pope might not be a bad pick, either. And, of course, a little luck wouldn’t hurt — the franchise’s draft position has never improved via the lottery. Ever.

Whether it’s via the draft, free agency or a trade, Minnesota must find a way to convert more 3-pointers. A lot more. The Timberwolves ranked dead last in the NBA in 3-point shooting last season and 25th in scoring. Point guard Ricky Rubio’s unconventional dish-first mentality puts even a larger premium on complimentary players who can hit from outside. Aside from the draft, talk continues to swirl of a possible contract extended toward free agent O.J. Mayo, who shot 40.7 percent from 3 in 2012-13 with Dallas. There are several other 3-point threats that could be on the market this summer, at least one of whom the Timberwolves ought to take a serious look at, especially if things with Mayo don’t work out. Help could come from inside, too, in the form of resigning unrestricted free agent Chase Budinger and better shooting by Kevin Love, who knocked down 39 percent of his treys from 2010-2012.

Derrick Williams has to go somewhere. That doesn’t necessarily mean to another team via trade, though he does look like a moveable piece entering the offseason. If Saunders does decide to retain the No. 2 overall pick from the 2011 draft, he and coach Rick Adelman require a specific plan for his future. Experimentation at the small forward spot didn’t exactly pan out last season, but sticking him behind Love at the four doesn’t allow Williams a whole lot of chance for development, either. He’s set to take up $5 million of cap space this season — not exactly dollars meant for spelling a potential all-star like Love. Saunders’ hiring brightens the future for Love in Minnesota, too, making it less likely Williams works out as a power forward project behind him. Williams’ 12 points and 5.5 boards per game last year were respectable, which loops back to the idea of a trade. Maybe for one of those outside shooters the Timberwolves desperately covet.

When Saunders entered the fold as Minnesota’s head coach in 1995, he brought with him a take-charge persona that helped the franchise to eight straight playoff appearances. It’s a different era of professional basketball, and Saunders finds himself wearing a suit and tie rather than a coach’s whistle, but the Target Center’s inner atmosphere is in need of another overhaul. It’s already begun in the form of retooling the Timberwolves’ front office staff. To continue, Saunders needs to address personnel needs the same way he did the game as a coach: aggressively, tenaciously, but with a balance that allows him to develop beneficial relationships with those in his charge. That, in turn, should energize a cynical but enthusiastic fan base. The recipe worked once, especially with the duo of Stephon Marbury and Kevin Garnett helping win games and filling arena seats, and Rubio, Love and company sit poised to do something similar. But without a ringer guiding things effectively, the team from the City of Lakes will continue to sink.

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Tags: Derrick Williams Fox Sports North Free Agency Joan Niesen Kevin Love Minnesota Timberwolves NBA Draft NBA Draft Lottery Nba Offseason Nikola Pekovic O.j. Mayo Ricky Rubio Timberwolves News Victor Oladipo

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