With the first few days of fall under our belt and the dog days of NBA summer approaching the end, Friday afternoon brought some devastating (albeit necessary) news about two of the Wolves’ most beloved big men. With Wolves media day scheduled for Monday, two key roster-related questions remained: would Kevin Garnett return for his record-setting 22nd season, and what exactly could we expect from Nikola Pekovic? The first question was answered late in the afternoon, as reports trickled out that Garnett would indeed forgo his record-setting 22nd NBA season and retire, agreeing to a buyout with the Wolves that would pay the Big Ticket all of his 2016-2017 salary ($8 million dollars) in exchange for him being waived.
While all of Wolves nation and the NBA community as a whole reacted to the end of the road for one of the greatest to ever lace them up, news on another Wolves front-court player snuck somewhat under the radar. During an interview with WCCO Radio, Glen Taylor announced that Nikola Pekovic was not expected to play in the upcoming 2016-2017 season, meaning the Wolves had quickly lost two big men and approximately $20 million dollars in one short afternoon.
While the news wasn’t all that surprising, it was still an additional gut punch to a franchise and fan base that entered the upcoming season with more optimism and positivity than ever before. While we didn’t have many expectations for Pek on the court this season, it’s still a tough pill to swallow to know that neither big man will be with this young squad. As the night progressed, Jon Krawczynski provided a few more details on the Pek situation, clearing up rumors about a possible buyout this season.
Regarding Nikola Pekovic: He will not play this season. Insurance will cover Wolves on contract. Highly doubtful he plays again ...— Jon Krawczynski (@APkrawczynski) September 24, 2016
After this season, Pek will have 1 year and about $12M left on deal. Easier for Wolves and Pek to reach some sort of agreement there.— Jon Krawczynski (@APkrawczynski) September 24, 2016
Garnett’s retirement opens up one roster spot, and it’s possible that another will be opened up with Pekovic. The Wolves have some options: They can simply waive Pek, with or without a buyout agreement. They would have the option to stretch the remaining two years on his deal, spreading out the cap hit over five seasons. They can apply for a medical retirement in January, which wouldn’t relieve them (or the insurance company) of their financial obligation, but would get his salary off the cap. They could carry him on the roster this season, and, as Krawczynski suggests above, make a deal with him next summer, and stretch that number over the following three seasons (they did something similar with Kevin Martin). Much of it depends on how much the Wolves value having that roster spot available.
Meanwhile, yesterday’s news on both players alters the roster, reducing the number of pure centers and power forwards to a more manageable six: Karl-Anthony Towns, Gorgui Dieng, Cole Aldrich, Nemanja Bjelica, Jordan Hill, and Adreian Payne. It opens up a spot for, presumably, a wing player, and makes it more likely that Rasual Butler makes the team. If Pekovic is off the roster, it gives Tom Thibodeau and Scott Layden additional flexibility to add someone, either before or during the season.
So...in the span of a few fall hours, it appears that it’s officially over for one Wolves big, and basically over for another. To some, Pekovic will be remembered as a slow-footed, over-paid center who could never stay healthy, but to many (myself included) he will be remembered as a low-post Goliath, a collector of skulls, a soft-spoken bodyguard that not even Dahntay Jones would scuffle with, and Zach Galifianakis’s #1 fan.
At least now Pek will have more time to work on developing his character for “The Hangover 4.” pic.twitter.com/QiV51LoiUp— Kyle Theige (@kyletheige) September 24, 2016
Closure isn’t fun.
Closure can be weird.
Closure can be painful.
In order to truly move on and grow, one must find closure. We received that on Friday, first with news of KG’s retirement and then with the news of Pek’s (presumably) career-ending injury. My thoughts on KG were poetically summed up by my buddy Drew, but my thoughts and memories about Pek are much harder to describe. While his impact and career were much smaller than that of Garnett’s, his presence on-and-off the court was that of a tractor-sized teddy bear, a simple man from Montenegro who struck (physical) fear into his opponents while never accumulating a single enemy. At age 30, with nearly $60 million in career earnings under his (enormous) belt, there is still much ahead for young Nikola Pekovic. Where will he go next? The world is at his (redwood tree-sized) fingertips.
What will you miss most about Pek?