Column: RICK SOLEM
The Minnesota Timberwolves finally signed their center. And sign them they did.
Restricted free agent Nikola Pekovic is locked up for five years and $60 million.
I hate it for so many reasons, and I’m a guy who loves old-school basketball where a team actually has a center – not some hybrid who doesn’t do any dirty work.
Pekovic definitely does dirty work. He’s all scrap and that’s part of the problem.
His numbers seem good. He averaged 16.3 points, 8.8 rebounds (3.7 offensive) and shot 52 percent from the field and 74 percent from the free-throw line.
But a contract that long for that much, is it worth it for a guy that’s a glorified rock – literally? OK, figuratively, but the 6-foot-11, 290-pound Yugoslavian is basically a rock, and rocks don't get better with age.
Pekovic’s field-goal percentage looks good, but is it? A friend of mine argued Kevin Love’s field-goal percentage isn’t very good, either.
But Love was jacking five 3-pointers a game the last two seasons (he only played 18 games last season because of a broken hand, then a troublesome knee).
Pekovic shot 52 percent on 12 shots a game from the paint. His rebounding is solid. His blocked shots aren’t good, but maybe he’s forcing opponents to readjust their shots with his mass.
The big problems with signing a to-be fourth-year player to such a long and expensive deal is A. He’s going to turn 28 on Jan. 3; B. He’s missed 20, 35 and 17 games the last three seasons, respectively.
It’s not good to sign an aging player can’t stay on the court long term - a player that hasn't been in the NBA very long. Not many massive guys get healthier as they get older and slower.
The signing is near-sighted and it could have been avoided.
Pekovic was a restricted free agent, and no team had made him an offer, which the Timberwolves could choose to match – similar to the Milwaukee Bucks situation with Brandon Jennings.
Was that not a sign that nobody was certain what to pay him? Teams didn’t want to offer him his worth – about $7-8 million per for three years – because Minnesota would have jumped all over that and danced the night away. And no team wanted to offer him what he wanted and then watch the Timberwolves say, “No way, that’s too much.” and stick them with this unknown salary-cap eater.
Plus, no team would have offered him a five-year deal. Dwight Howard and Josh Smith didn't get five years from their teams (graphic) and they're more proven players and only one month older than Pekovic.
SIMILAR SALARIES or PLAYERS
*Atlanta: Paul Millsap - 2 years, $9.5 million
Instead, the Timberwolves just gave him what he was asking. The years. The money. Stupid.
Like the Bucks, Minnesota could have played this season with Pekovic under a one-year deal for $6 million, then let him become an unrestricted free agent – in which Minnesota could offer more money than any team in the league.
That would have been the smart and safe route. Minnesota would have gotten one more year to see if Pekovic could stay healthy and produce. They would get one year with Pekovic, Ricky Rubio and Love on the court at the same time - maybe. And one more year of Derrick Williams turning into a stud - maybe.
If everyone stays healthy and they make a deep run, Pekovic would be inclined to stay and the Timberwolves would be inclined to pay him about … $12 million a year – a contract worthy of guys who you know exactly what you’re getting (but, again, not for five years - they didn't even give Love five years).
The one-year tender would have also allowed Minnesota to see if resigning Chase Budinger – who missed most of last season because of a torn meniscus – and the addition of shooting guard Kevin Martin was enough to put it over the top.
At this point, the contract is a big risk and locks the Timberwolves' options to this roster. The only way they improve is through a major trade: Derrick Williams perhaps, if they are making a run, or Kevin Love, if they are losing.
Love is signed for about $15 million the next three seasons. Williams is due around $7 for the next three years, but his final year is like Pekovic’s now, he’ll be a restricted free agent looking for big money.
Rubio is in that boat, too - signed for three at about $5 million, but will want to be paid in two years.
Martin is signed for four years around $7 million - also a questionable signing for a player that turns 31 in February - and Budigner is getting $5 million for three years – the third year, a player option.
So, by the numbers, the Timberwolves have to make their run this year or next, before Rubio and Williams want to get paid and the Timberwolves can’t afford them all.
If the experiment doesn’t work this season, they’ll blow up the roster and probably have to eat Pekovic’s salary four years longer than they want.