Nikola Pekovic’s days might be numbered with the Wolves


Wolves fans far and wide have been frustrated to see the downturn of Nikola Pekovic over the past few seasons. Injuries have played a very large part in this regression, but there are more factors at play than just injuries that bring me to the conclusion that it might be time for Pekovic to move on from Minnesota.

I’ll start with the obvious: Pekovic’s health issues. Throughout his entire five-year career Pekovic has yet to play an entire 82-game season. In fact, the most games he’s played in a season has been 65 games as a rookie.

Pekovic has sustained several injuries in his career, the most recent being an Achilles’ injury, but he has also injured his back and has had other lingering ailments. Now, I realize injuries are in many ways uncontrollable; they just happen. But with a 6′-11″, 285-pound frame a lot of weight is coming down on Pekovic’s feet. Precautions should be taken otherwise he could turn into that of a Yao Ming or Bill Walton. Timberwolves management should be wary of any lower extremity injury to Pekovic and this Achilles’ injury should not be taken lightly.

The Montenegrin big man has more than injuries to worry about. With the influx of young talent at the post position coming to Minnesota, it almost leaves Pekovic in the dust. There are several players who could come in for the Timberwolves and make a bigger impact than Pekovic.

There is incoming number-one overall draft pick Karl Anthony-Towns, whose versatility down low is already an upgrade from Pekovic. Then there is Gorgui Dieng, who is chomping at the bit to step into the starting center role. He started only 49 games last season and was still able to be the Timberwolves’ leader in win shares. Even Adreian Payne who played very well after coming to Minnesota last season could serve as a Pekovic replacement.

Pekovic has also seen his stats take a step back, and while you could attribute much of that to his injuries, I would argue otherwise. Pekovic’s best two seasons came in 2012-13 and 2013-14 at ages 27 and 28. The prime of an NBA player is somewhere in the 26-32 year-old range. In other words, the heart of Pekovic’s prime would have been those seasons at ages 27 and 28. Pekovic will turn 30 in January of this coming season, signifying the back half of his prime, where stats normally take a hit. Some player’s have longer prime’s than others, but in my opinion I think Nikola Pekovic’s prime has passed.

Pekovic will make $12.1 million this season, making him the second-highest paid Wolf behind Ricky Rubio. With everything I have said previously being taken into account, it’d be safe to say that Nikola Pekovic is a waste of some valuable Wolves cap space. They could be using that money to bring in a tested veteran or another young, talented player to put around the exciting, young squad they have now.

So if the Wolves were to entertain the idea of moving Pekovic, where would they move him to? More than that, how would they move him?

Pekovic is only going into the third year of his five-year $60 million mega-contract, and it’s hard to deal away a player that takes up $12 million in cap space every season. The only teams that would be able to trade for him are teams with copious amounts of cap space. Think teams like Philadelphia, Charlotte, or even Utah. Now as a Wolves fan it’d be easy to say that the Wolves should trade Pekovic straight up to Charlotte for Al Jefferson. In fact this trade does work from a cap perspective, but it’s always deeper than that, the NBA doesn’t work like NBA Live 2006.

Just think about it logically for a second; Why would teams like Philadelphia, Charlotte, or Utah trade away good players like Nerlens Noel, Al Jefferson, or Rudy Gobert for a 30-year-old, one-dimensional post who can’t play defense and can’t rebound despite his size? Oh and you have to pay him $12 million a year. No team wants any part of that. There simply are not any trades I can see that would work out because of Pekovic’s regression on the floor and the amount of money he makes each year.

In the end, the Timberwolves will be unable to trade Pekovic. They ultimately have two options: they can stick with Pekovic through his contract (which goes through 2017-18) and hope he returns to form. The second option is to waive Pekovic, buy-out a portion of his contract, cut their losses, and move on. Medical retirement could potentially be an option, but it doesn’t seem likely at this point.

With a young, exciting team set to take the floor in the coming years, it is imperative for the Wolves front office to make a decision on Pekovic sooner rather than later.

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