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Updated: April 7th, 2013 12:24pm
Reusse's Reality: Pekovic has to stay

Reusse's Reality: Pekovic has to stay

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by Patrick Reusse
1500ESPN.com

There was a feeling a couple of months ago that the Timberwolves could only go so far in bringing back center Nikola Pekovic.

Or to put it another way: I was blind and now I see. The Wolves have to do whatever it takes to bring back the soon-to-be restricted free agent.

He's not a major defensive presence in the middle. He's going to miss a few more games to injury than you would like to deal with. But here's the bottom line: Pekovic gives you an advantage over his main opponent on more nights than any other player in the lineup.

Ricky Rubio is an outstanding point guard taking on 20 other outstanding point guards as the Wolves play out a schedule. Kevin Love, when healthy, is a big numbers producer at power forward, with a tendency to give up as much on the defensive end as he gains with those numbers.

Pekovic can make himself more of a factor than an opposing center in 80 percent of the games he plays. That has been particularly true in the last month, as Rubio has made it all the way back from knee surgery and has been running the show for 35 minutes per night.

The Wolves can come up with the $12-13 million a year it's going to take to sign Pekovic without making an immediate move with Love. They can put off a decision on Love until after the 2013-14 season.

The advantage here would be two-fold: A) Love could decide if he wants to stick around, or make official and not just hints that he's looking forward to leaving Minnesota; and B) he could have a healthy season and regain his trade value.

The disaster would be if the Wolves were to lose Pekovic, and then find out for certain that Love had no plans to stay.

No way the Wolves, with salary-cap and escrow issues, can afford to have Pekovic, Love and Rubio (with a close-to-max contract in his future) on the payroll long-term, you say?

So be it.

Rubio and Pekovic are excellent players and fully-committed teammates. Love is an excellent player and fully-committed to individual achievement.

I'd rather have a lineup that included Pekovic at center, Derrick Williams at power forward and Rubio at point guard, than a mediocrity at center, Love at power forward and Rubio at point guard.

Of course, I'm not Rick Adelman, and if he stays as the coach, Williams figures to get moved down the road before a decision is made whether to trade or to make nice with Love, the immature star.

I heard Wolves television analyst Jim Petersen pointing out on Saturday night that Williams isn't quite big enough to handle power forwards defensively in the NBA. He's absolutely correct on that, but how much worse is that than Love, who is big enough to handle NBA power forwards defensively and just doesn't do it?

Chase Budinger is another case of changed opinion. When the season started, I wasn't too excited about his presence. And then he was injured in the sixth game of the season and underwent knee surgery in mid-November -- a month before Rubio returned from his more serious surgery.

The first time Budinger and Rubio were teamed in a game was March 21. They haven't played long minutes together, but you realize it's a huge benefit for Rubio to have an actual shooter as an option to receive his passes.

That makes Budinger another player the Wolves will have to get signed after the season.

Combine him with a 6-3, 6-4 shooting guard who can actually shoot (there are two first-rounders to get this done), with Pekovic in the middle and Love at power forward, and the favorite to be the 2013-14 league leader in assists will be Rubio.

Another large question for next season is whether Adelman will be back as coach, or if ongoing concerns over his wife's health will cause him to retire back home in Portland.

Whatever the outcome, the Wolves could do worse than to keep the current staff of assistants intact. This is by far the most professional and knowledgeable collection of coaches the franchise has employed.

Patrick Reusse has been covering sports in the Twin Cities since 1968. He co-hosts SportsTalk from 3 p.m. to 4 p.m. and hosts The Ride with Reusse from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. weekdays. He also co-hosts "Saturday Morning SportsTalk" from 10 a.m. to noon on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.
Email Patrick | @1500ESPN_reusse | The Ride with Reusse
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