Timberwolves' Offseason Hinges on Re-Signing Nikola Pekovic
Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports
Who would've thought that the mountainous Montenegrin would have a literal impact so closely resembling his physical stature.
As all 290 pounds of Nikola Pekovic head into the offseason in anticipation of hauling in a massive multi-year contract as a restricted free agent, the Minnesota Timberwolves' immediate future very much hinges on his destination.
Whatever Flip Saunders does had better be the right move. He cannot afford to mess this one up in his first offseason.
Brought over as an afterthought after spending a year overseas as a second-round draft pick, Pekovic was signed by now-former General Manager David Kahn. In three seasons with the team, he has gone from a fouling machine who appeared to have no grasping of the game of basketball to a menacing paint presence on both ends of the court.
A decision on Pek will need to be made early whether or not it is revealed to the public. Once the front office knows whether or not the big man will be in Minneapolis next season, they can move forward with their offseason.
Once the 6'11" domino falls, the biggest and most important part of the offseason will be in the past. Minnesota will be hoping it gets resolved quickly because many other decisions will hinder on Pekovic.
What Happens to AK-47?
Andrei Kirilenko made the venture back to the NBA after winning Euro league MVP during the lockout-shortened season of 2011-12.
After one very productive season in Minny, he leaves the team in a predicament. Kirilenko has a player option for $10 million for next year. There will be a number of factors determining whether or not he stays aboard.
First, Kirilenko thrived in Rick Adelman's corner offense. Much like fellow free agent forward Chase Budinger, his decision on returning largely hinders on the looming return of their beloved coach.
No Adelman could very simply result in no Kirilenko.
With Saunders on board, Adelman appears to be coming back, (for now).
"I'm assuming he is coming back until he tells me (otherwise)," Saunders said in his introductory press conference.
If Kirilenko opts out at age 32, he will likely be looking for the last long term deal of his career. At that point, it would be hard to see Minnesota bringing him back because of the looming Pekovic contract.
As a restricted free agent, Minnesota can match any offer Pek receives around the league. His intentions are "100 percent" to stay in Minneapolis, but Portland and Minnesota's front offices have butted heads numerous times, most recently last offseason battling over Nicolas Batum.
These two guys will likely go hand in hand this offseason. If either leaves first, then it frees up money to sign the other. If Kirilenko sticks with his current deal and picks up his option, it leaves the Timberwolves in financial position to possibly keep both.
What Do We Make of D-Will?
Derrick Williams did make big improvements this year after fighting his way out of Adelman's early doghouse.
He upped his scoring to 12 points per game. While the team was being ravaged by injuries down the stretch, there were plenty of times where he became the only reliable scoring option on the floor.
However, looking at this roster completely healthy brings about some questions. Is Derrick a sixth man when everyone is healthy? Can he take AK's starting spot? Does Adelman favor Cunningham to D-Will?
All are valid questions. Still just 21, Williams is still oozing with potential. If he were to be moved in a trade it would most assuredly have to come in the form of a wing player, possibly moving up in the draft for a shooting guard.
If Pekovic does in fact leave, Williams could see tons of minutes at the 4 spot next season alongside Love at the five. The NBA is becoming a smaller and more wing-oriented league. Those two down low would not be ideal for 48 minutes, but they would be electric offensively and could be an effective front court in spurts.
Saunders could move D-Will regardless to try to get up in the draft. He could have eyes on Nerlens Noel as a potential Pek replacement, or he could want McLemore to fill the ever-vacant shooting guard slot. Both are very prospective options, but for a franchise in such dire need of success, no stone can be left unturned.
Williams is the highest draft pick in team history and cannot just be given away. If he is moved, it must be through a deal that Saunders cannot even fathom turning down. Otherwise, he must continue to get big minutes on this roster as Rubio's go-to lob partner and occasional explosive scoring option.
His fate is mostly connected to Pek's if Pekovic leaves. It would be very difficult to see Saunders deal a jaw-dropping 6'8" Williams after Pekovic leaves. It would sacrifice too much height and unless he can woo a huge big man free agent to town, it would be an illogical move.
How Does Pek Affect Other Free Agency Targets?
Dwight Howard, Josh Smith, Al Jefferson and Andrew Bynum are not coming to Minnesota. Let's just get that out of the way.
Because of that, if Pekovic leaves it creates a hole that is almost impossible to fill. There would be a tremendously weak group of free agents for Minnesota to pick to replace him. Aside from drafting a center that they fall in love with, bringing Pekovic back is the only option.
With Pekovic in the lineup, Saunders can quickly pounce on any number of free agent shooting guards. He could spend big on a Kevin Martin, O.J. Mayo or possibly Tyreke Evans. If he digs deeper into the bargain bin, he will find J.J. Redick, Jerryd Bayless and Tony Allen.
Shooting guard would be a much simpler position to fill in free agency than center would be. The talent drop-off after Pekovic is significant because centers like him are very rare. Off-ball guards who can hit threes are much easier to find.
The ball gets rolling tomorrow during the lottery. If the Timberwolves finally strike some luck in the lottery and land in the top three in the draft, it will give them a gluttony of riches. A No. 1 pick could leave Saunders tempted to test his luck with Nerlens Noel, which would throw a big fortunate wrench into all plans.
Regardless of what happens during the draft, this team can ill-afford to lose their star center. The entire offseason is riding on Saunders locking him up.
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