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We are a little late pulling the trigger on this story, so by now you probably know that the Wolves agreed to terms Wednesday with big man Nikola Pekovic on a hefty new contract that will keep him in Minnesota for the foreseeable future.
It will be easier to defend this deal as the season stretches on, especially if Pek can stay healthy. For two consecutive years, Pekovic has averaged over 18 points and 10 rebounds per 36 minutes (and over 25 minutes per game, importantly). He is big, strong and talented. He moves well out of the pick and roll, diving to the hoop and setting enormous screens. He has great touch around the basket and solid footwork. Perhaps most importantly, he has super badass tattoos. We know all this about Pekovic, and all of these things are reasons to celebrate his signing. Long live the Nikola Pekovic era.
In a league where JaVale McGee makes $11.25 million in 2013-14, agreeing to $12 million for a player like Pekovic is not bad at all. In fact, it’s a really solid contract, especially since Pek’s agent, Jeff Schwartz, also represents Kevin Love. Wolves fans are fretting about keeping Love happy, so re-signing a talented center represented by Love’s agent is probably a really good place to start rebuilding the bridges David Kahn blew sky-high during Love’s last contract negotiations.
So the deal is solid. That leaves us with the biggest question: How good is Minnesota’s core?
Let’s assume for a second that, for the next five years, the Wolves will go to war with Love, Ricky Rubio and Pekovic. This is far from a certainty, but it’s a decent bet given that A) David Kahn is gone, placating Love to a certain extent B) players in Rubio’s situation almost always take the extension on their rookie deal to get guaranteed money and C) If Pek’s contract DOES turn out to be bad, good luck moving that thing.
Where does that put Minnesota? It’s hard to tell.
That uncertainty is the only reason I’m not elated about this deal. If we compare Minnesota’s model of talent gathering to Oklahoma City’s, there are similarities. A supremely talented superstar is paired with a uniquely talented point guard and joined by a talented-but-somewhat-flawed big man. All of the players are young and the team hits a rough patch at first, but as they grow together, they have the potential to be a dangerous team.
The problem for me is that after several injury-plagued years, we just aren’t certain what we have with Minnesota. When Oklahoma City went about signing their star players to longterm deals, the Thunder had a much better idea of what they could expect over the next five years. Durant had led the Thunder to the playoffs. The team was clearly on the rise. There were very few question marks.
You could argue the Wolves have had awful injury luck and, of course, you’d be correct. Losing Rubio in his rookie year was unkind. Losing Love for much of last year was equally so. But unfair or not, the absence of both players has created a lack of certainty that this particular team has the requisite talent to make a deep playoff run eventually, at least not a level of certainty like the one that surrounded Oklahoma City.
Again, this argument isn’t entirely fair. Kevin Durant isn’t just a superstar, he’s a once-in-a-generation superstar. Whatever team employs him during his prime is automatically a title contender. Pair him with Westbrook, and a team’s fortunes are inevitably good. The Wolves don’t have the luxury of having a once-in-a-generation talent. Instead, they have Kevin Love (clearly a star, but equally clearly not Durant) and a lot of unknowns.
Banking on those unknowns was a good decision. It was time to lock up the next few years and build around a core, and that’s what the Wolves began to do by giving Pek a big pay raise. It was strong action that showed direction and solid decision making. Every franchise needs a direction, and Minnesota has settled on one. After years of David Kahn waffling both in the draft and in the offseason, having a direction is refreshing.
But whether or not Minnesota’s newly locked-up core proves to be the core of a deep playoff team remains to be seen. And with over $32 million tied up between three players over the next two years before Rubio has received his extension, that uncertainty is nerve-wracking.
Follow Tom on Twitter: @Tom_NBA.