Some will argue that the Wolves entered last season with playoff hopes, and they certainly did, but this team is even more stacked.
Returning are starters Kevin Love and Ricky Rubio—who, again, must stay healthy—as well as Derrick Williams, Alexey Shved and Chase Budinger who should all play significant minutes off the bench.
On top of that, the team went out and signed Kevin Martin, a reliable veteran shooting guard, away from the Oklahoma City Thunder and will be welcoming Corey Brewer back to Minnesota for a second stint. They also drafted Shabazz Muhammad, a polarizing talent.
The missing piece, of course, was Nikola Pekovic.
Without Pekovic, the Wolves would have had to rely on either recently drafted Gorgui Dieng, a late first-rounder with limited offensive ability, or veteran Ronny Turiaf to start at center.
Pekovic came at a steep price. By holding out so long, he was able to add a fifth year to his contract—Minnesota originally wanted to give him four—and now has $60 million burning a hole in their pocket.
While the big man did not come cheap, he is worth the price. Personally, I would have thrown in Babe, the Blue Ox and Lake Bemidji to get the avid ice fisherman to carve holes into our lakes rather than dip deeper into the free agent pool.
Pekovic does three crucial things for the Wolves: He balances out the roster, will not force Williams or Muhammad into action and makes Minnesota one of the most physical teams in the league.
Balancing Out the Roster
Here is the problem with the non-Pek Timberwolves: They don't have true starters down low.
Love is a power forward, of course, so he does spend a little time in the paint, but he is more of a dabbler. He’ll chill down there for a little bit, snag some boards, and back a few guys down, but Love will also bounce outside and knock down a couple treys.
Pekovic doesn’t know what the three-point line is.
He doesn’t pitch a tent down low; he erects a castle. It comes complete with cannons, a moat and taunting Frenchmen (okay, it’s just Turiaf, but it’s the thought that counts).
I know I make a Rampage joke in every Pekovic article, but I seriously think the first playable characters were George, Ralph, Lizzie and Nikola Pekovic. Correct me if I’m wrong.
This guy could literally stand atop the First National Bank Building in St. Paul and stomp it to the ground. I’d keep him off our bridges for safe measure.
Allowing Williams and Muhammad to Take a Seat
Okay, this affects Muhammad less than it does Williams, but in general it’s a good thing that both these guys are coming off the bench. There are other teams that would have forced their first-rounders from the past three years into action, but because the roster is filled out, Minnesota does not have to.
Without Pekovic, head coach Rick Adelman may have been forced to go smaller in order to put the most talented players on the floor.
That means that Rubio would have been at the point, Martin at the 2, Brewer or Budinger at the 3, Williams at the 4 and Love as the center.
Williams is an improving player, without a doubt, but his early struggles indicate that he’s not ready to be a full-time starter just yet. He still has to earn it.
The problem with that roster is that a) it is awfully undersized and b) it may lack scoring.
Brewer provides perimeter defense, which is much needed, but isn’t a big-time scorer and Budinger can knock down threes and throw down monster jams, but otherwise has a pretty limited game.
Pekovic is not an offensive machine the way Love is—by any stretch of the imagination—but has continued to put up bigger numbers each year he’s been in the league and topped out at 16.3 points per game last season. He might be able to hit 20 at his peak—time will tell.
Brewer and Budinger probably will not match that and Williams is capable of doing so, but has not consistently been in the high teens or 20s during his nascent career.
This is where Shabazz comes in.
Adelman and Co. may feel tempted to rush him into a starter role, even with his whole rookie league kerfuffle, to see if he can put up big numbers with guaranteed playing time.
It’s not a risk the team wants to take and they will not have to now that Pekovic is signed.
The Bruise Brothers
Wolves President of Basketball Operations Flip Saunders called Love and Pekovic the Bruise Brothers after re-signing the big man.
The moniker is supposed to be a reference to the Blues Brothers, but the Bash Brothers would probably be a more fitting analogy.
The team will probably shy away from the second reference, however, now that we know they were more juiced than a bottle of Ocean Spray.
Still, the Bash Brothers comparison is apt.
Assuming that Love’s hand holds up and Pekovic isn’t troubled by injury again, these two should wail on opponents all year long. Nobody should come to the Target Center expecting to get easy baskets and the Bruise Brothers will be expected to go hard in the paint.
After years of getting trampled by the rest of the NBA, it’s time the Wolves enact revenge and instill fear in the rest of the league.
This signing will allow them to do so in a big way and the results should be fantastic.
So how do the Blues Brothers fit in? Well, two cities, one eponymous with the name of an apostle, have not seen a major pro sports team win a championship since 1991.
Let’s just say Love and Pekovic are on a mission from God.
With the Pekovic singing, the Timberwolves have put together a roster that can not only compete with the Thunder for the Northwest Division, but also make a deep playoff run.
Everybody is going to have to stay healthy and there was a steep price to pay, but in the end it is worth it to bring a winning basketball team to Minnesota.
Tom Schreier covers Minnesota sports for Bleacher Report and is a contributor to Yahoo! Sports.
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