1-on-1: Nikola Pekovic with John Focke
Pek Welcomed Back To Minnesota
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Fans of the Minnesota Timberwolves might be familiar with a video called, "Where in the World Is Nikola Pekovic?"
Well, on Friday afternoon, he was in Minnesota and it looks like he'll be here for quite some time.
The Timberwolves announced Friday morning that they have agreed to terms with the restricted free-agent center, but over the course, there was little doubt a deal would be done. President of Basketball Operations Flip Saunders said time after time this offseason that he expected to get a deal done. The deal may have gotten done later than some anticipated, but it got done nonetheless.
Saunders leaked the word via Twitter on August 14, typing, "#wolvesnation. We have agreed to terms with Pek."
Saunders had an individual conference call on Thursday morning previous to the team announcing Pekovic would have his own on Friday.
"It's been a process, an educational process from our side and also from their side and we've come to an agreement that we both feel to be excited about, that Pek's going to be here long-term for us," Saunders said during Thursday's conference call.
The Montenegro native has undoubtedly outperformed expectations of what was projected of him when he came into the league. In 2008, he was the No. 31 pick in the draft and he didn't arrive to play in America until 2010.
That season, he played just 13.6 minutes and averaged 5.5 points and three rebounds.
"My agent asked me when we signed, he asked me how I feel (after signing the contract)," Pekovic said. "I said 'I still don't know.' I came out three years ago and I basically was a backup center, so I was fighting for position."
Fouls were a problem for the big man. He had a difficult time making the NBA transition, and averaged 2.8 fouls per game in the already sparingly minutes he was playing. His second season had mixed results. He averaged 13.9 points and 7.4 rebounds per game, while shooting 56.4 percent from the field, but played in just 47 games. He showed signs of becoming a great offensive center in that time, though.
That eventually came into fruition last season. Pekovic came into training camp looking chiseled, and the hard work during the offseason paid off.
Pekovic, 27, averaged 16.3 points, 8.8 rebounds and played 31.6 minutes per game during the 2012-13 campaign. All were careers highs. Pekovic became one the premier scoring centers in the NBA. Not many teams can say that.
"What it does is one you solidify your center position, a very tough position to solidify in the NBA. So we've been able to do that. Centers can be extremely important," Saunders said. "There are not very many centers that have the ability to score in the low post. Pek does, he's probably one of the best, if not the best. And we all know he's great rebounder, especially offensive rebounder."
Even before re-signing Pekovic, the Wolves have had quite the busy offseason. It started in May when the Wolves hired Saunders. Since then, Saunders has been a man on a mission. Since his arrival, the Wolves have re-signed Chase Budinger, picked up the option on Dante Cunningham, signed Kevin Martin, Corey Brewer and Ronny Turiaf, while drafting Shabazz Muhammad, Gorgui Dieng and Lorenzo Brown.
"I think they've done a great job," Pek said on Minnesota's offseason.
Saunders believes those players will play vital roles in this team making a run to the playoffs in 2013-14, but Pekovic is one of the three he is most excited about.
"What we've been able to do with the other people we've signed this year and Pek of course was the last," Saunders said. "... He's got very good ability to finish off passes from (Ricky) Rubio, so usually what has to happen is, this league has proven that you need to have three star-type players and when I say that I'm saying three players at their respective positions that could be considered top five in the league and I believe that Ricky, Kevin (Love) and Pek, all three of those guys have the ability to be in the top five at their respected positions, and some a lot higher."
With Pekovic returning, the Wolves have capped off a successful offseason and it looks like the checklist they had going into it is marked off.
We waited a while for Pekovic to re-sign. Now we await the start of the season.
"I want to be 82 (games) for regular season. I mean, the style of how I play, sometimes injuries are part of what I'm doing... Sometimes danger will happen. It's kind of part of my job. That's what I'm trying to work on (with the) medical staff, that the injuries are small. That I only miss a game or two."
"We've got a lot of great fans in Minnesota, but maybe no greater fans of the Timberwolves than his parents who are in Montenegro. As he was telling me, he said his parents get on the internet every game, at two or three in the morning and every time Pek is playing and goes out of a game, and say he goes back to the locker-room to get his uniform changed or something else, his dad or mom at home, they call and ask what's wrong. So we've got two very big fans back in Montenegro, so I'm sure Pek will bring back some more Timberwolves gear when he goes back there tomorrow," Saunders said.