Wolves’ Potential Trade Bait: Kevin Martin and Nikola Pekovic


The Timberwolves’ front office has been acting with a purpose these last two seasons. Flip Saunders has been steadily acquiring young players that will be the future of the franchise (Andrew Wiggins, Karl-Anthony Towns, etc.) while simultaneously bringing in veterans to help mentor them and show them what it takes to win consistently in the NBA (Kevin Garnett, Andre Miller, and Tayshaun Prince).

Ricky Rubio is the only piece that was here before Flip Saunders came back that still looks like he’s part of the long-term plan. Otherwise, this roster has been shaped to Flip’s liking with an obvious eye towards the future.

When looking at Minnesota’s roster, however, there are two players that stick out. They aren’t part of the young core around which the front office is building, but they also aren’t part of the veteran group brought in to mentor the young players. They are both still near their primes at ages 29 and 32, respectively, but they likely won’t be of much help to the Wolves when they start looking to climb the Western Conference standings.

These are also the same two players that will most likely be moved by Minnesota this season. They are Kevin Martin and Nikola Pekovic.

Kevin Martin played for a contender as recently as three seasons ago with the Oklahoma City Thunder. That team was bounced in the second round by the Grizzlies, but without Russell Westbrook available (he was injured in the first game of the playoffs), Martin averaged 13.9 points per game in the postseason. He helped take some of the load off Kevin Durant and Serge Ibaka, but some people thought he could have done more.

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Still, with great three-point shooting rapidly becoming more and more valuable, Martin could easily find himself a target of many playoff-bound teams in this upcoming season. His defense leaves a lot to be desired, but his impact on offense should more than compensate for that. Since the Wolves will almost assuredly be out of the playoff picture at the trade deadline, this is another chance for them to cash in a proven player for assets that will be more valuable down the road.

Pekovic is a harder player to find potential suitors for. He is a methodical, back-to-the-basket type player, which is falling out of favor as the league moves towards pace-and-space offensive systems. Pekovic is still a great offensive player capable of registering a 20-10 every night, but he is a liability on defense. He has no explosion and is not a very good help defender either. (The elephant in the room is, of course, the combination of a scary injury history and a hefty contract.)

I can’t see any contender in the West being interested in Pek. The Grizzlies are really the only team that slow down games and try to grind their way to victory, but they already have great players in their frontcourt in Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph.

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However, there are a few teams in the East may be interested in Pek. The Nets have a stud center in Brook Lopez, but nobody else is effective in their frontcourt after him. They may also look to move Lopez at the trade deadline again this year (he was nearly traded to the Thunder last year), which would give them further need at the center position.

The Knicks are in a similar position with their Lopez brother. The team signed Robin Lopez this off-season, but he is currently the only center on the roster. The Pacers are also looking at starting Jordan Hill or Ian Mahinmi at center this year. Either of those teams could search for an improvement at center, and Pekovic could be a pretty effective piece for either of them. The problem is that those teams are also looking at rebuilding like the Wolves, so even though Pek may look good for them on paper, they may not be interested.

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Two other players that could possibly be moved by the Wolves are Anthony Bennett and the newly signed Tayshaun Prince. If Bennett gets off to another slow start, I wouldn’t be surprised to see him packaged in a deal with Martin. His play at the Pan-Am games was promising, but the Wolves are so crowded in the frontcourt (especially at power forward) that it would be easy to move on from him.

I don’t think it is likely that Flip will move Prince, who he won a title with in Detroit in ’04, but if Prince even begins to resemble the player he was just a few years ago, contenders will be calling. If he is able to showcase his defense and some shooting in his limited minutes with the Wolves, he could provide some much needed wing depth for any number of teams. That doesn’t seem likely based on his performance from the last couple seasons, but maybe his play will perk up a bit with extra rest and competing with the young guys on this team.

It would be a mild shock if the Timberwolves didn’t trade away one of Martin or Pekovic this year. Neither is in the franchise’s long-term plans and both could fetch a decent return. With his shooting prowess, Martin could fit on any number of potential playoff teams, which would make it very surprising if he were still on the team after the trade deadline this season. Pek doesn’t fit nicely on as many teams as Martin would, but he can be effective in the right situation.

Martin and Pekovic are right around the average age for NBA players, but they are abnormal on this team. They are simultaneously too old to be part of the future and too young to be the veteran mentors Flip is looking for.

And in short, that is exactly why they will be the prime candidates to be traded this season.

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