Long-term deal in hand, Nikola Pekovic letting his new reality sink in
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MINNEAPOLIS - Reality hasn't fully hit Nikola Pekovic.
Two days after the Minnesota Timberwolves finally cemented a deal to bring back the 6-foot-11 Montenegrin center on a reportedly five-year, $60 million contract, the soft-spoken Pekovic is still wrapping his head around the faith the Wolves are placing upon him to be one of the team's long-term cornerstones.
"My agent asked me when we closed the deal, 'How do you feel?' I said, 'I still don't know how I feel.' It's unbelievable," Pekovic said Friday at a press conference to cap off his return.
"I came over three years ago and I was basically a backup center. I was kind of fighting for my position. But from the other side, I know I was fighting and really pushing for this. I'm really happy all this happened."
Since his arrival in Minnesota in 2010, Pekovic has quickly risen from secondary status to one of the top true centers in the NBA. Providing a stabilizing and dominant presence in the low post, Pekovic averaged 16.3 points and 8.8 rebounds in 62 games last season -- up slightly from his numbers one year earlier (13.9 ppg, 7.4 rpg).
Pekovic has been on a whirlwind trip since getting the call from his agent that his contract had been finalized, hopping on a plane from Montenegro soon after, barely having time to tell his parents the news.
"She started crying I think," Pekovic said with a smile, recalling his brief conversation with his mother.
With Pekovic locked in for the long-haul, the Wolves are taking a hearty gamble that he can be critical piece in their quest to end a nine-year playoff drought and ideally be at the forefront of sustained success.
Pekovic completes the Wolves' own take on a "big three."
President of basketball operations Flip Saunders has made it clear since he took over the position in May that re-signing Pekovic was the lynchpin in the flurry of offseason moves he has made throughout the summer.
"Our No. 1 priority was getting Pek into the fold, " Saunders said. "We felt Pek is one of the better centers in the league and has the ability with our main core players in Kevin Love and Ricky Rubio to form a threesome that I feel you need to have to compete at a higher level in this league."
Re-signing Pekovic was a nearly two-month work in progress. The Wolves sent the restricted free agent a qualifying offer to Pekovic in late June worth an estimated $50 million over four years. After ongoing back-and-forth negotiations, the two sides finally settled on a deal.
Despite the drawn out nature of the negotiations, Pekovic insisted he never doubted or worried about his return to Minnesota.
"I know these have been long negotiations, but as soon as the season finished last year I said I would like to stay here," Pekovic said. "That was my priority. That's what I said to my agents. They said we could maybe look at some other options, but I said, 'No, I would like to stay here and live.'"