Apr 3, 2013; Milwaukee, WI, USA; Minnesota Timberwolves center Nikola Pekovic (14) shoots against Milwaukee Bucks center Larry Sanders (8) during the first quarter at the BMO Harris Bradley Center. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

Nikola Pekovic: Tricky Beast


The Nikola Pekovic re-signing is worthy of at least a celebratory week of recaps. In keeping with last night’s feel good Pek theme, I want to revisit former Fox Sports North’s Joan Niesen’s article on the cost of keeping Pek a Wolf… (Boldage be mine.)

The center position in general has become a tricky beast. The NBA has evolved into a point guard-driven league, nearly a complete 180 from the 1980s and ’90s, when most teams had a big man to whom they could funnel the ball inside. Now, a Derrick Rose or a Ricky Rubio is the coveted player, and centers can almost be an afterthought in teams’ game plans.
“You don’t have your centers anymore,” Adelman said in December. “There are only a couple centers, basically. Back 15 years ago, there was a lot of centers. That was a big part of the game. I don’t think that’s as big a part of the game as it used to be at all.”
Adelman is right: Centers do not play a focal role in the league any longer. But there’s a catch, and a big one, to what he’s saying. When teams find a traditional and talented big man, they pay up. They pay big. Some might say they pay too much. Because no matter how out of vogue centers might be in theory, in practice and in the flesh, a talented one can make all the difference.
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.

Tags: Minnesota Timberwolves Nba Free Agency Nba Offseason Nikola Pekovic