Pek is Back!
The stalemate is finally over. After long-winded negotiations for nearly two months proving fruitless, the Minnesota Timberwolves and restricted free agent center Nikola Pekovic agreed yesterday to a five year deal that will pay the Montenegrin around $12 million per season with an extra $8 million in bonus incentives, with all five years being guaranteed.
Jeff Schwartz, the agent of both Pekovic and fellow Pup Kevin Love, initially demanded a contract in the four year, $60 million range while the Timberwolves, led primarily by President of Basketball Operations Flip Saunders, wanted something closer to four years and $48-50 million. The two sides were very adamant in their initial demands, and likewise the process dragged out until the middle of August. Nonetheless, the two sides found common ground by tacking on an extra guaranteed year while maintaining the Wolves initial demands of an annual salary of around $12 million.
The 27-year-old 7-footer had a career year last season, averaging 16.3 points and 8.8 rebounds in 62 games. His PER of 20.26 put him fifth in the league among starting centers, and he continued to dominate the paint even without Kevin Love by his side for the majority of the season.
The 31st overall selection in the 2008 NBA Draft, Pek has displayed remarkable growth since coming to Minnesota in 2010. He has quickly gained national recognition as an up-and-coming player in the league, and is characterized by his brute strength and aggressive playing style. In the 2011-12 season, we saw glimpses of how dominant a Pekovic-Love frontcourt can be when healthy, and the two players together will create possibly the top rebounding frontcourt in the NBA for seasons to come. Pek is arguably the strongest man in the league with a 290-pound frame that is nearly all muscle. His activity on the offensive glass creates second chance opportunities for his teammates while keeping the ball on the offensive end. Pek’s unique skill set fits in perfectly with Love’s ability to stretch the floor on the perimeter.
Implications of the Signing
Remember when David Kahn refused to give Love that extra year on his max contract extension? That obviously did not sit well with Kevin, and I would be surprised if he wasn’t a bit miffed when he saw that his frontcourt companion got the extra year that he and his agent (who happens to also be Pek’s agent) tried so hard to get in his extension. Sure, Love got more money in total and has more flexibility for the future, and obviously letting go of Kahn signified the organization’s acknowledgment of the mistakes made by the former GM. I do not believe that Love will hold it against the franchise for giving Pek five years, because when it comes time for Love to hit unrestricted free agency – whether it is in 2015 or 2016 – the club will be able to offer Love a maximum five year contract that would pay him more than any other competing offers. Minnesota will also likely lock up Ricky Rubio which will solidify Minnesota’s core for when it is time for Love to make his next decision.
It is important to note that giving Pek five years does not jeopardize the team’s ability to offer Rubio a five year maximum contract extension when it comes time to re-up on the Spaniard. The intricacies of the new CBA can be confusing to understand, but the truth of the matter is that the Wolves will be able to offer both of their stars five year contracts while the competition can only offer four years and a little bit less money annually. As of right now, it appears optimistic that Minnesota will be able to keep their core of Love-Rubio-Pekovic intact for many years to come. This is an enormous victory for the organization.