HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — The Minnesota Timberwolves have made their position clear. They want restricted free-agent center Nikola Pekovic wearing “Wolves” across his chest for years to come. And they are willing to pay handsomely to make that happen.
It’s that price, however, that is holding up the process.
While the Timberwolves have reportedly slotted Pekovic for a deal in the four-year, $48 million range, the 7-footer’s agent, Jeff Schwartz, is reportedly looking for something in the $15 million a year range, according to 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.
That’s a significant gap and one that will require some adept maneuvering from Timberwolves’ boss Flip Saunders, who not only has to work with Schwartz on a deal for Pekovic but also has to keep in mind that they’ll do this dance again when Kevin Love is in the midst of free-agent negotiations before the 2015-16 season. Love can opt out of his current deal then and become a free agent.
It’s a delicate balance for Saunders, crafting a roster capable of competing for a playoff spot now while also maintaining flexibility and fiscal responsibility for the future. It’s a balance that wasn’t managed well by his predecessor, David Kahn. In fact, these sorts of offseason hiccups were supposed to be history in Minneapolis, along with Kahn.
And make no mistake, this is a management issue. Pekovic’s camp has every right to push for the max. In a league where a talented big man always has value even if there is little production to warrant it (Andrew Bynum and Greg Oden come to mind), Schwartz knows that he’s working from high ground with a player like Pekovic.
He averaged 16.8 points and 8.8 rebounds and was a consistent inside force for the team while Love was out of the mix for all but 18 games with an injury.
What the Timberwolves have to guard against is allowing this situation with Pekovic to put them in any sort of compromising position down the road with Love, who will indeed command max money of his own if and when he does opt out of his current deal. Love and Ricky Rubio are the current and future cornerstones of the playoff outfit Saunders is trying to build, and that has to be on the minds of everyone within the franchise as they move forward.
Outbidding themselves for Pekovic wouldn’t make a ton of sense at this juncture. But any damage done to the relationship with Schwartz right now could have lasting ramifications down the road, potentially producing consequences the Timberwolves absolutely cannot afford if they are serious about turning their playoff fortunes around.