Nikola Pekovic is flying in to Minneapolis to sign his new 5-year, $60 million contract and say a few words to the gathered press at Target Center Friday. Just a prediction: the words will be few.
Reactions to Flip Saunders’ re-signing have been predictably nit-picky. (Guy plays only 80% of a season. Guy doesn’t protect the rim.) A few even predicted his numbers would be down with Kevin Love returning next year, implying Pek was awarded this contract due to a single season’s inflated production achieved whilst Love recovered from breaking his hand twice. Which is categorically false.
The quotes from Flip are interestingly Flip-ish. He always peppers his comments with generalities, as far as “top 5s” and “our league” — but he makes it clear Pek is part of the core. Something his predecessor David Kahn struggled to do, mostly because two of the three core players pre-dated him.
All I know is, with Love, Pek, a rookie Ricky Rubio and garbage on the wings — Wesley Johnson and Michael Beasley among them — the Wolves were above .500. Now two years wiser, proven shooters on the wings and the core acknowledged; things are fixed up nice.
You can call it an “aggressive approach” or paying free agent wing premiums instead of drafting and growing your own, but right now everything’s fixed up nice and neat. The Pi-Press gots some quotes on it…
Saunders reportedly offered the restricted free agent about $48 million over four years in a qualifying offer on July 1. He said in a conference call Wednesday that Minnesota’s “aggressive approach,” coupled with the Wolves’ ability to match any outside offer, likely stopped other NBA teams from taking a run at the 27-year-old Pekovic.
“Maybe that scared them away,” Saunders said.
Saunders indicated that signing Pekovic provides Wolves coach Rick Adelman with a major piece for a team that acquired forwards Kevin Martin and Corey Brewer plus center Ronny Turiaf, re-signed guard Chase Budinger and signed draft picks Shabazz Muhammad and Gorgui Dieng.
“We were able, really, to address what we wanted to do,” Saunders said. “But we’ve still got a lot of work to do.”
Saunders has been busy since taking over running the Timberwolves on May 3 but said his foremost job was securing Pekovic.
“He’s one of our big, key pieces,” Saunders said of the 6-foot-11 Pekovic. “We came in in the offseason, and we labeled him our No. 1 priority.”
Pekovic played 62 games last season, averaging a career-high 16.3 points and 8.8 rebounds a game.
“He’s been a dominating player,” Saunders said.
Pekovic, forward Kevin Love and guard Ricky Rubio give the Wolves the tools to reach the playoffs and more after a nine-year absence, Saunders said.
“There are not very many centers who have the ability to score in the low post,” he noted. “Pek does. He’s probably one of the best, if not the best, and we all know that he’s a great rebounder. He’s got very good ability to finish off passes from Rubio.”
Saunders expects the threesome to be invaluable to any Wolves success.
“This league has proven that you have to have, quote unquote, three star-type players — and I’m saying three players at their respective positions who are going to be considered probably in the top five in the league,” he explained. “I really believe that Ricky, Kevin and Pek, all three of those guys have the ability to be in that top five at their respective positions — some of ‘em up a lot higher.”