Why Other Teams Should Make An Offer For Nikola Pekovic

The NBA’s free agency period is a few weeks old now, and very few top-tier player’s remain. But one, Nikola Pekovic, could have been offered close to max money by a number of teams with the cap room. Fortunately for Timberwolves management, who hold the rights to match any offer for their 6-11 Montenegrin center, nobody has extended an offer so far and the Timberwolves might get him on the cheap.

As Charley Walters of the Pioneer Press mentioned last week, teams just haven’t stepped up to make an offer for Pek, after Dwight Howard went to Houston.

Teams that reportedly were interested in acquiring unrestricted free-agent center Dwight Howard, who recently signed with Houston, should seem to have at least some interest in the 6-foot-11, 290-pound Pekovic, 27, who last season averaged 16.3 points and 8.8 rebounds.

Those teams would include the Lakers, Golden State, Dallas and Atlanta. But none has stepped forward with an offer for Pekovic, perhaps because it’s virtually understood that the Wolves intend to match any offer, as is their right.

Because nobody has stepped forward to make an offer for Pekovic’s services in an effort to over-extend the Timberwolves, they’ve stayed pat near a four-year $50 million contract, adds the Star-Tribune’s Jerry Zgoda.

According to Zgoda, the Timberwolves aren’t in a panic to get Pekovic signed, and neither is his agent, Jeff Schwartz, who also happens to represent Kevin Love, and earlier repped Al Jefferson during his 2007 contract negotiations with the Timberwolves’ front office.

Timberwolves owner, Glen Taylor, told Zgoda the Timberwolves are expected to reach an agreement for Pekovic some time in the coming week. Whether they decide to agree on a four-year $48 or $50 million deal, remains in the air, since other teams can still make an offer, which Minnesota says they would match. But Taylor, like a lot of team’s around the NBA, believes Pek will be back in Minneapolis next fall.

“My sense is, I think we both know he’s going to be playing for our team next year,” Taylor said. “I think we’re just dealing with an element time of here. I would tell you I’m very positive that he’ll play for our team. What we have left isn’t something that can’t be resolved. There doesn’t seem to be a lot of pressure on us or him to get it done. A meet has been set up in the future.

“I’m confident it’ll get done. I’ve been through so many of things. You say, `It’s just money, Glen.’ I think we’ll get it done. He’s an important part of our team. He wants to be back and we want him here.”

Taylor’s comments came last Thursday at the NBA’s Summer League in Las Vegas. The confidence also stems from the fact that no team has made an outrageous—think $45 million for 3 years—deal for the 27-year-old center who averaged 16.3 points and 8.8 rebounds in 31.6 minutes per game last season. Pek averaged those amounts despite the team missing their ostensible all-star, Kevin Love for most of the season, and point guard, Ricky Rubio, for the first month.

Click through to read why the lack of interest for Pekovic’s services is so strange considering how well he played last season.

Zgoda’s piece mentions a possibility for why Pekovic hasn’t gotten a five-year offer from Minnesota already: Pekovic’s agent, Mark Schwatrz, also reps Kevin Love, and he whould have a hard time explaining why he’d gotten Pekovic that fifth year without also getting Love a fifth year and “Designated Player” status from the Timberwolves when Love signed a controversial extension for four years and over $60 million in January of 2012. The Timberwolves didn’t offer Love that fifth year and thus Love missed a 30 percent raise in the fifth year that would have pushed his deal into true max-level territory. Now Love can opt-out of his deal after just three seasons, in the summer of 2015.

One thing that isn’t in doubt, though, are the numbers Pekovic put up in his third year in the league. He’s seen his scoring and rebounding increase in each of his first three season, and despite taking more shots and becoming more involved with the Timberwolves’ offense after Love went down and Ricky returned, he was still able to shoot over 52 percent from the floor while NBA defenses keyed to stop him with Love unable to spread the floor with his shooting.

Among NBA centers who averaged over 30 minutes a night last year, only Brook Lopez and Al Jefferson had higher player efficiency ratings (PER) than Pek, per hoopdata. And Pek had a higher true shooting percentage than both of them, while also nearly matching Jefferson’s rebounding rate, and obliterating Lopez’s. The comparison to Jefferson is especially useful for someone like Schwartz, since Jefferson signed with Charlotte for three years and over $40 million.

While Pek’s plus/minus numbers aren’t great—the Timberwolves gave up 2 more points per 100 possessions with him on the floor, according to NBA.com—they also scored 3.8 points more per 100 possessions with him on the floor. With a team that went just 31-51, that was one of the better plus/minus numbers on the team, while keepong in mind Pek was still going against starting defenses and offenses while missing one or both of his best teammates for large stretches during the year.

Pek has developed a nice rapport with Rubio, and there are few guard-center tandems in the league who run the pick-and-roll as efficiently and effectively. As the P&R roll man, Pekovic ranks 16th in the entire league, scoring 1.23 points per possession in 158 P&R actions this season, via Synergy Sports. That number accounted for 16 percent of Pekovic’s finishes on offense. Pek’s really developed a nice sense for the high screen roll, where he’ll set up for a screen and then quickly touch the ball handler’s defender to throw off his own man before rolling to the rim, often tricking both defenders snoozing during the action as Rubio threads the needle with a pocket pass, or a lob to Pek at the rim before the late-rotating defender.

But while Pekovic’s offense has flourished and his defense has remained solid, he’s also an intimidating force on the block. Maybe he doesn’t scare driving guards with insane wingspan or incredible jumping ability, but he does inspire a bit of fear. Toughness is a plus for a younger league with teenagers adjusting to the pofessional game. Pekovic isn’t afraid of anyone, and at 6-11 290 pounds, he doesn’t need to be. There’s something to be said for having a tough Eastern European guy on the court in case someone wants to mess with either Ricky or Love.

But Pekovic still isn’t geting an offer sheet from another team; most consider him a lock for Minnesota, since they said they would match any offer. But why let the Timberwolves off the hook? If Pekovic and his agent Schwartz aren’t getting the $12 million or so he deserves with this deal, he can just accept their $6 million qualifying offer to become an unrestricted free agent next summer.

Regardless of what Pek and his agent decide to do and what owner Glen Taylor and GM Flip Saunders finally agree to pay him, they don’t have to face the pressure of matching an exorbitant offer from another team. If teams already figured the Timbwerwolves would match any offer for their blossoming big man, why didn’t opposing teams make Minnesota earn the right to have Pek? It wouldnt he that crazy to offer something like four years and $53 million.

The Russian Bear is worth the money, if you look at his numbers and forget the injury concerns. So why didn’t anybody put it up? Perhaps the new CBA taxes going into effect next season scared team’s off. Perhaps Pek’s injuries—he has yet to play a full season—scared team’s away from offering a long-term deal. Maybe Pek just didn’t fit: Milwaukee has cap space left but they’re already overloaded in their front court.

Minnesota might be able to lock up Pekovic for a cheaper four-year deal than expected, but if teams are going to whine about it like they have Andrei Kirilenko‘s signing in Brooklyn, they have no one to blame but themselves. Minnesota will sign Pekovic to the lowest price the market calls for, and right now there doesn’t seem to be much of a market for Pekovic.

But there should be.

Why aren’t more teams extending offers to Pekovic?

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