POSTED: Feb 23, 2016 8:49 PM ET
MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Minnesota Timberwolves center Nikola Pekovic has been ruled out indefinitely as he recovers from right Achilles tendon surgery last April.
Pekovic has missed eight straight games with discomfort and played in only 12 games this season after having a procedure that was viewed then as a last-ditch effort to relieve chronic pain in his right foot. The Timberwolves view his latest issue much differently, with the pain an expected side effect that comes after returning to the court from a long absence.
Timberwolves Vice President of Sports Performance Arnie Kander said the pain now is in Pekovic's heel because of weakness in his calf that is the result of that surgery. If all goes well during a period of rest and strengthening, Pekovic could return to play this season.
"He will be fine," Kander said. "He will be Nikola Pekovic again."
Kander's confidence comes in the face of foot issues that have limited Pekovic to 97 of a possible 221 games over the last three years.
Pekovic's Achilles tendon is in good health now, and the Timberwolves are not concerned that this latest problem is a recurrence of the same injury, which would have been a very ominous sign for a player who still has two years remaining on the five-year, $60 million contract he signed in 2013.
"It's not the Achilles," Kander said. "It's strictly the heel from the pounding from the weakness that's causing the issue."
Kander said the typical recovery time for Achilles surgery is between nine and 15 months. But Pekovic did not need a full repair of a rupture like Detroit's Brandon Jennings and Dallas guard Wesley Matthews required. Instead, surgeons performed a debridement procedure that was aimed at removing some debris in the area that was causing constant irritation in his foot.
Jennings and Matthews are guards, but Pekovic is a center who weighs 300 pounds, which brings more challenges for his recovery.
Pekovic spent nine months rehabbing the injury and returned to the court in early January. The main goal during his rehab work was to rebuild strength in his legs to at least 90 percent of what it was before the surgery. Once January rolled around, Pekovic was registering at 85 percent in the exercises and performing well enough that the Wolves put him back on the court with a strict minutes limit.
When Pekovic again had some pain in his foot, the Wolves decided to shut him down and work to return his strength levels in his calves to take some of the pressure off of his foot. The new goal is to get him to 95 percent from a strength standpoint.
The Timberwolves sorely miss him. When healthy, Pekovic was one of the best offensive centers in the game, with soft hands around the basket, an ability to use his burly physique to run the pick-and-roll to perfection and a feathery touch from 15 feet and in. Those skills are what persuaded Wolves brass to splurge on Pekovic in 2013, envisioning him as the perfect complement to Kevin Love in the frontcourt.
But Love was traded to Cleveland before last season, Pekovic's foot problems emerged before that and the Wolves have rebuilt their frontcourt around rookie Karl-Anthony Towns and Gorgui Dieng.
Ideally, Pekovic could serve as a much-needed third big man in that rotation, playing 15-18 minutes a night and giving the second unit a reliable scoring option in the post. But his ability to stay healthy and fill that role for the long term remains in question.
"He's just got to stay strong," Wolves guard Zach LaVine said. "We're all proud of him for working his way back. That's a traumatic injury. ... He's going to be OK. He's a tough-minded person. We all feel for him, but we support him."