The Montenegrin center has been a sensational value pick ever since being drafted with the first pick (31st overall) in the second round of the 2008 draft. In 2011-12, he had a player efficiency rating of 21.47, more than a 10-point increase from his rookie season (per ESPN). That year, he had more points in the paint on a per-minute basis than LeBron James, Blake Griffin and Dwight Howard.
At 27 years old, he is no longer green, but he should have five or more good years left in him. Even though he only has only three years of service under his belt, he has proven to be an overpowering, physical player that is capable of scoring underneath the basket. Unless he demands unreasonable money—he does not deserve a max contract—Minnesota should do everything in their power to lock him up for the next few years.
Right now, I see four of the five starting positions locked up:
Ricky Rubio as point guard. He needs to shoot more accurately both from the field and beyond the arc, but his ability to improve the team around him makes his shooting deficiency forgivable.
Alexey Shved at the two. He has developed a long-range shot and can create off the dribble. Hopefully he can add weight and improve his defense in the offseason.
It would be nice to see Derrick Williams take over the three spot. He is a bit small to play power forward and is likely to be best suited at this position. If not, the team has a gaping hole at this position.
Kevin Love is the power forward. He is improving his defense and has proven that he can grab rebounds and shoot from both the field and the outside.
That puts Pekovic at the five.
The problem is if you let Pek go, then what message are you telling the team?
It sounds an awful like they did not capitalize on drafting a player in the second round that translated his play to the American game. It sounds like they went through all the effort to bring him over to Minnesota and develop him only to let him leave the Twin Cities after he became a star.
Not only that, but what incentive does a player have to stay in Minneapolis long-term? No superstar wants to be stranded on an ever-changing team that never builds itself into a contender. At some point, this team needs to find a core they like and move on with it.
Pekovic has told both the Star Tribune and Pioneer Press that he would like to remain in Minnesota. “I like everything about Minnesota,” he told Charley Walters of the Pioneer Press. “First of all, I like the team. I think we can do a lot when we’re healthy.”
He told the Strib’s Jerry Zgoda that he has yet to speak to the team about his contract situation, he cannot sign with anyone until July 1 and Zgoda suggested that he is worth about $12 million.
There is some injury concern with him, but the team also witnessed how much he is missed when he is gone. He may never move very well, but his physicality balances that out. And the team is going to have to open their pocketbook, but it’s a small price to keep a roster that can compete when it is healthy.
At a certain point, this franchise is going to have to commit to a roster they believe in and Pekovic should be a member of that team.
Tom Schreier covers the Timberwolves for Bleacher Report and writes a weekly column for TheFanManifesto.com.