Wessel: Wolves would be fools to sink big money into fragile big man
MINNEAPOLIS -- Nikola Pekovic watched Sunday's 100-77 loss to the Dallas Mavericks from the bench in a sharp-tailored suit, missing his fifth straight game with an abdominal strain.
This is a sight the Minnesota Timberwolves are getting used to seeing. Pekovic has missed 12 games with a series of injuries in a crucial season before heading into free agency this summer.
He becomes a restricted free agent on July 1 and the Wolves have a decision to make that holds massive ramifications for their future. The big man Montenegro will command top dollar on the market with the Wolves being able to match any offer.
Owner Glen Taylor and Rick Adelman have both said they want to sign Pekovic to a long-term deal, but 1500ESPN.com's Darren Wolfson has reported a team source says the Wolves (smartly) won't pay Pekovic if the price gets in the $12 million range some expect.
Letting Pekovic walk would be an unpopular move among fans already upset about rising ticket prices, no matter how much it makes sense should the price get north of $9 million per year.
The Wolves would take a PR hit, but let's be honest here, can they sink much lower? Keeping Pekovic makes sense if you can do so without breaking the bank, but $12 million is just too much for a guy who can't seem to stay on the court for a second consecutive season.
An ankle, a hamstring and now an abdomen have kept Pekovic out of the lineup. That doesn't include the games he has left early either -- one of them for dehydration.
Pekovic is by no means soft. He is a tough player who routinely plays through pain. But it is fair to wonder if he is a guy who has a knack for picking up little injuries. Not being able to stay on the court is a big concern going forward, and it makes it tougher to make a long-term commitment.
Pekovic has come a long way defensively since entering the league. His grasp of how the American game is officiated was a process -- he could foul out in a minute without even trying. He is a big body and throws his weight around, but he can't do much to defend the rim.
That poses a problem because Kevin Love isn't exactly Hakeem Olajuwon either. You would be tying up nearly half your salary cap in a pair of bigs that would be defensive liabilities.
Somebody will pay Pekovic big money. It is inevitable. Bigs like Pekovic are a commodity, despite his defensive deficiencies and poor finishing around the rim.
The Wolves would be able to work out a sign-and-trade if they decide not to match the dump truck full of cash that the Portland Trailblazers inevitably offer.
It would be tough to see him go. He is beloved by teammates and by those in the organization. But as we see time and time again, this is a business -- and paying Pekovic $12 million a year is just bad business.
Remember, there is a certain floppy-haired Spanish point guard who will be commanding his own dump truck full of cash soon, too.
The negotiations will be interesting when they start on July 1. It will also be interesting to see if it is David Kahn doing the negotiations or not.
There is still no return date for Pekovic and his strained abdomen, so he likely won't be out on the floor Tuesday against Spurs -- a sight that fans might have to get used to permanently.