The Scoops: Wolves center Nikola Pekovic lighter, working on left hand
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When Minnesota Timberwolves president of basketball operations David Kahn suggested a certain center was "like manna from heaven," maybe he really meant Nikola Pekovic.
After witnessing a portion of Pekovic's three hour workout on Wednesday afternoon, I can attest that he's noticeably lighter and far more lean.
Pekovic, who just began full court running in mid-August following offseason surgery on his right ankle, said he currently weighs 278 pounds. He played last year at 292 pounds.
The Wolves convinced Pekovic to get into the best shape of his life for what will be the most games and minutes of his career this year.
He'll take a beating in the post, but his willingness to get physical is one of Pekovic's best traits.
"A lot of bigs don't want to go into the paint and get bumped and banged. Pek loves it," assistant coach Bill Bayno said on 1500 ESPN on Saturday afternoon. "It's hard to find guys like that."
Bayno, who is the team's big man coach, recently spent two weeks working with Pekovic in Montenegro.
"Pek is great," Bayno said. "He has as high an IQ as anyone on our team, and that's rare for a big man. He's a joy to work with.
"We really worked hard on his counter moves with his left hand, because teams want to take away his right hand. ... I think you'll see a much better left hand this year, and we've added some moves to his game that I think will transfer."
Pekovic averaged 13.4 points and 7.4 rebounds per game last year, solidifying himself as a top-10 center.
When I asked him who the best center in the NBA is, without hesitation he cited the Lakers' Dwight Howard and the Sixers' Andrew Bynum (whom he owns, by the way).
Why not you?
"To be near them, I need to put more work in," Pekovic said. "I am still too young in this league."
According to Pekovic, backup center Greg Stiemsma is not cleared to participate in 5-on-5 scrimmages. Stiemsma battled plantar fasciitis late last season, and that injury can certainly linger. The Wolves only guaranteed one year of Stiemsma's contract because of the uncertainty with his health.
Running with the Wolves
• Bayno on second-year forward Derrick Williams, who is expected to open camp almost exclusively at the 3: "He still has a lot to prove and I tell him that. He's got a lot of baby fat. He needs to stay focused on his diet and being lean, keeping the weight down. ... It will take time with him. He's such a good kid, he really is. He's a sweetheart. But he can't be that kid on the court. He needs to be a junkyard dog. We'll be patient with him."
• Bayno spent a part of his summer putting Williams through workouts in Los Angeles.
• Point guard Ricky Rubio was also in the gym on Wednesday afternoon. From the naked eye, he looked good getting up on his jump shots. While he's been cleared to run, he wasn't doing so when I was present.
• An NBA source said if the Wolves hadn't signed power forward Lou Amundson this week, their backup plan was to offer the same contract to forward Yi Jianlian. Plan C was free-agent power forward/center Sean Williams.
• Amundson chose the Wolves over similar offers from the Knicks and others.
• There's still a chance the Wolves bring free agent center Hassan Whiteside into camp, but it would likely have to be with no financial guarantee. Over the last week, the Wolves made a lot of phone calls to check around on Whiteside's background.
• Small forward Andrei Kirilenko will be the last of the guys to arrive into town. He'll meet with the media on Friday afternoon.
• One name said to be kicking the tires on owning the Wolves is Chicago businessman Richard Chaifetz.
One-on-one with Kevin Love
I talked to Wolves star Kevin Love one-on-one on Tuesday. Some highlights:
Let me challenge you on this: that's fine and dandy that you think you're a playoff team, but nobody got worse in the West of last year's playoff teams.
The Lakers got better. We know what Oklahoma City brings. The Spurs are always a good team. I think we have a great shot and I see us in the final eight.
But again, who got worse? Even Utah added Randy Foye, Mo Williams and Marvin Williams.
If we were in the East, it would be easier. Nothing will come easy. We'll have a lot of games circled on the calendar. ... We are looking forward to the Western Conference.
Here's where you'll be better: competent wings ...
Yes. Yes. We have guys who can make shots and defend. We have guys who will fight every night. We'll be able to work through our stuff (without the condensed schedule).
Can you see yourself signing an extension well before you can reach unrestricted free agency on July 1, 2015?
Oh, sure. We've made the right moves. With the moves we've made, this season should be great. If we continue to keep growing, I can, yeah.
• After correspondence this week with a Twins decision-maker, I'm convinced the way they acquire starting pitching this winter is through a trade or two. Some potential names available include Atlanta's Randall Delgado, Tampa's Wade Davis, Oakland's Brett Anderson, Cincinnati's Mike Leake and Pittsburgh's James McDonald. Arizona, the New York Mets and Philadelphia might also be logical trade partners -- they all could use an outfielder.
• Twins vice president Mike Radcliff on the near signing in 1999 of American League Triple Crown candidate Miguel Cabrera: "He was in our program/facility the week before July 2nd. His mentor works for us -- Rudy Hernandez. The entire family wanted us to sign him. We had a longer history and more background on him than any player we have ever scouted in Latin America, but we had stiff competition from about four other teams. It was the biggest disappointment in my personal scouting career -- including the Travis Lee debacle."
• Twins interim general manager Terry Ryan and manager Ron Gardenhire will hold a conference call on Thursday night with season-ticket holders.
• According to Ryan, the Twins have about 20 guys playing winter ball in South America. That list includes top prospects/outfielders Aaron Hicks and Oswaldo Arcia.
• Twins outfielder Denard Span has invited fellow outfielder Ben Revere to Tampa for workouts this winter.
• No. 1 draft pick Byron Buxton will spend his winter in Atlanta, taking part in plenty of baseball activities and hitting the weight room hard. He's currently playing in the Florida Instructional League.
• In spite of rumors to the contrary, the Gophers won't have any more night football games this year. Senior Associate Athletic Director Marc Ryan said all conference night games are set by July 1.
• Since the Gophers' win on Saturday night over Syracuse, they've sold about 500 tickets for the Oct. 13 homecoming game vs. Northwestern. Keep in mind that the $10 ticket promotion is no longer in play.
• The best 3-4 defensive end in the NFL, Houston's J.J. Watt, was once a Gophers commitment as a tight end. But he changed his mind to Wisconsin soon after coach Glen Mason was fired.
• Duke basketball coach Mike Krzyzewski was at Apple Valley High School on Thursday to check in on point guard Tyus Jones. Duke made Jones a scholarship offer months ago. Jones is expected to take an unofficial visit to the school for its Midnight Madness on October 12.
• Kentucky basketball coach John Calipari was at Robbinsdale Cooper High School on Friday to deliver guard Rashad Vaughn a scholarship offer. Vaughn is expected to make Kentucky one of his official visits, which can start in January.