Jerry Zgoda missed the entire Kevin Garnett era, but he's back covering the Timberwolves after working the beat for their first four seasons two decades ago. In between, he covered a bit of everything: Gopher men's and women's basketball and NCAA athletics, golf, outdoor recreation, sports media and a little Vikings and Twins.
Nikola Pekovic returned to Minnesota Thursday $60 million richer and his new big contract officially was announced at a Target Center press conference over the lunch hour.
He looked both nervous and fit wearing all black except for a silver accent tie and when asked by a questioner if he has lost weight this summer, he said, "280 (pounds), same as last season. Maybe it's the suit."
Here's a bit of what he said:
"I feel comfortable here. I like it. People ask me where will you live. I don't want to go to bigger city. I just like it here. I like everything. I like the community. I know it's a little cold in the winter, you just get used to it."
On the protracted nature of negotiations: "When I finished the season, I had a meeting with my agents and they said, `Don't worry, leave everything to us, trust me, we just want the the best for you.' So that's what I did. He (agent Jeff Schwartz) said to me at one point, `If you're too nervous, we can close." I said really, no, I'm not nervous. I really was so relaxed. I just know (a deal would be reached). It's just a great thing."
He said Schwartz asked me how he felt after the deal was completed Wednesday morning.
"I said I still don't know," he said. "It's still a little unbelieveable. I came here three years ago and I was basically not even a backup center or nothing. I was fighting for my position. I know I was really fighting and pushing for this and I'm really happy that all this happened."
He said his mother, Vesna, cried when she learned negotiations were completed and her son was about to sign a five-year, $60 million guaranteed contract.
She and Pekovic's sister -- but not his father, Todor -- have been to Minnesota to visit.
"But they were here only in the summer," Pekovic said. "I hope they'll come to see me play in the next few years. They've got five years to come here."
He's returning home to Montenegro tomorrow and plans to stay there through the third week of September before he come back to MInnesota about 10 days before training camp starts.
He still will not play for Montenegro in the upcoming European championships.
Check startribune.com later today for a complete story for Saturday's paper on today's presser.
The Wolves today finally reached agreement with restricted free agent center Nikola Pekovic on a new contract.
It is, according to a source with knowledge of the negotiations, a five-year, $60 million contract that also includes as much as $8 million more in bonus incentives.
The Wolves got Pekovic at their price -- no more than $12 million a year -- but gave a fifth guaranteed year to get the deal done.
Flip Saunders insisted on breaking the news on his own Twitter account not long ago.
Pek is expected to be here Friday for a news conference officially announcing the deal.
In a statement released by the team, Saunders said, "Retaining Pek was our No. 1 priority this offseason and we're very excited that he's chosen to continue his career in Minnesota. Thanks to a lot of hard work and determination, Pek has developed into one of the NBA's premier centers and is entering the prime of his career. We envision Pek and Kevin Love being the `Bruise Brothers' and forming one of the best front courts in the NBA for a long time to come."
A couple other things:
No word yet on who Kevin Love's new agent is...
That's a joke, btw.
Love, of course, was seriously miffed when David Kahn didn't give him that fifth year and "designated player" status coming off his rookie contract.
Pek did get a fifth year with Jeff Schwartz -- who also is Love's agent -- doing the negotiating.
And this five-year deal DOES NOT preclude the Wolves from signing Ricky Rubio to that five-year designated player status.
Pek's five-year deal is a completely separate thing from the lone designated player status alloted to one Wolves player coming out of his rookie deal.
The Wolves now still can extend Love down the road witha five-year deal and sign Rubio to a five-year deal when his rookie contract is up in 2015.
Pek still will not play in the European championships in Slovenia next month.
Timberwolves owner Glen Taylor said Wednesday that president of basketball operations Flip Saunders will travel to New York early next week – as early as Monday – to talk with Nikola Pekovic’s agent Jeff Schwartz in hopes of finalizing a deal for the restricted free agent center.
The Wolves have offered Pekovic a four-year offer believed to be worth up to $50 million. Taylor said Schwartz had submitted a counteroffer.
“We made an offer and they made a counter offer,” Taylor said. “And they decided they should get together and talk about it in person rather than over the phone.’’
That said, Taylor indicated that he regarded the Wolves’ initial offer a good one. “Our offer wasn’t a negotiating offer,” he said. “Our offer was what we think was a really good offer.”
Saunders will go to New York alone. Taylor said he didn’t think Pekovic would attend the meeting, saying Schwartz had asked the Wolves to deal with him rather than his client.
Still, Taylor didn’t seem worried about potential problems getting the deal done, suggesting that adding incentives to the team’s offer might be an avenue to getting the deal done.
Getting Pekovic signed would appear to be the final large-scale move the Wolves need to get done during what has been a rather busy off-season.
The Wolves re-signed Chase Budinger, acquired free agent shooting guard Kevin Martin and have also landed Corey Brewer and Ronny Turiaf to provide depth.
Pekovic averaged 16.3 points and 8.8 rebounds during the 2012-13 season, his third in the league.
The Timberwolves will meet with Nikola Pekovic's representatives in the next week in an effort to reach a contrat agreement, team owner Glen Taylor said on an NBA TV interview during Thursday night's Vegas Summer League game.
I'm told no date has been set and when it happens, expect president of basketball operations Flip Saunders to travel alone to New York City to meet with agent Jeff Schwartz, who also reps Kevin Love and before that represented Al Jefferson in his 2007 contract negotiation with the Wolves.
The Wolves have made Pekovic an offer -- believed to be a four-year deal worth as much as $50 million -- and Taylor said Pekovic's camp made a counterproposal.
"My sense is, I think we both know he's going to be playing for our team next year," Taylor said. "I think we're just dealing with an element time of here. I would tell you I'm very positive that he'll play for our team. What we have left isn't something that can't be resolved. There doesn't seem to be a lot of pressure on us or him to get it done. A meet has been set up in the future.
"I'm confident it'll get done. I've been through so many of things. You say, `It's just money, Glen.' I think we'll get it done. He's an important part of our team. He wants to be back and we want him here."
Taylor made those comments during the Wolves' 83-75 loss to the D League Select team in the second round of Vegas tournament play. That loss took them out of title contention. They'll play their final Vegas game Friday against Portland.
You might ask, why has this Pekovic dance taken so long?
There are a number of factors at play here:
* The Wolves have the right to match any offer because Pekovic is a restricted free agent, so there's no time pressure on them to make a deal.
* Pekovic's camp has been waiting for an offer from another team that's so massive -- a $55 million-plus deal max deal or close to it -- that never came.
They've been waiting but one by one, teams -- Portland, Cleveland, Dallas, Atlanta -- all have made other cap-eating moves that have left them unable to create the kind of the $12 million starting salary needed to make an offer the Wolves potentially could gag on without matching. (They'd probably just match any offer anyway...)
The only team with that kind of money left is Milwaukee and the Bucks have Larry Sanders, are frontcourt heavy and almost certainly won't throw that kind of money at big Pek,
The only time pressure on Pek's camp is to get a deal done before he plays in the European championships in Slovenia in September. Training for his national team probably begins soon, so that's their biggest clock ticking.
* There's some agent-y, business stuff probably going on here, too.
The Wolves theoretically could offer Pek a five-year deal to give him extra security, but it doesn't sound like the concept has been discussed, probably for a couple reasons: Pek is prone to nagging injuries so the Wolves likely wouldn't want to commit an extra year, but this is also interesting: Schwartz, as I mentioned, also reps Love, who still is bitter about not getting the five-year "designated player" contract offer two winters ago.
How would Schwartz explain to Love that he couldn't get him a five-year deal while getting Pekovic one?
Tricky position for him to be in.
Schwartz also probably is feeling pressure to deliver big for his client for a couple reasons: Pekovic was expected to be a hot commodity on the free-agent market even though he is a restricted free agent but that big offer never come. Schwartz is in the same position with new client Brandon Jennings, who appears to be the biggest loser in this year's free agency.
Jennings left Bill Duffy (who reps Shabazz Muhammad among many, many others) for Schwartz last winter and Jennings was believed to be seeking $12 million a year. All the other big-name, big-money point guards have signed elsewhere now that Atlanta matched the Bucks' offer for Jeff Teague and Jennings still waits -- probably a grudging agreement for both sides to return to Milwaukee will be reached if they can't work out a preferred sign-and-trade deal elsewhere -- for his money, which almost certainly won't be $12 million a year.
Pekovic, too, won't get another offer, so why don't the Wolves hardball him at this point and offer, say, $9 million a year, you ask?
Because it's as much about fair market value compared to other NBA centers as anything.
And if San Antonio's Tiago Spiltter is worth $9 million a year and the Clippers' DeAndre Jordan is getting paid $11 million a year, what is Pek worth?
Certainly more than that.
If you say he has no other better options, you're right. But he can -- if negotiations got nasty -- opt to take the Wolves $6 million-plus qualifying offer for next season and walk away as an unrestricted free agent next summer.
That's a huge gamble, particularly given his injury history, and unlikely.
And Taylor said on NBA TV tonight, both sides know they need to reach a deal. The only question is that element of time.
Here's what likely will happen: The Wolves will sweeten the deal and allow Schwartz to save face by including some notable bonuses for games played, etc., that Pekovic likely will be hard pressed to reach.
If he does, then he's probably worth the extra money. If he doesn't, the deal can be billed as X amount even if he doesn't ultimately get paid the full amount.
The Wolves are swtiching their D League affiliate from Sioux Falls to the Iowa Energy.
The Wolves haven't used their affiliate much historically -- mostly just for injury rehabs with Jonny Flynn and Malcolm Lee in recent years -- but Flip Saunders said he'd like to use it to develop young players more if possible.
The Wolves switch to a team in Des Moines after Miami developed an exclusive relationship with the Skyforce in South Dakota.
Chicago, New Orleans, Denver and Washington also will use Iowa as its D League team when its first- or second-year players need playing time or if a player is coming back from injury.
In a perfect world, Flip said the Wolves would have their own D League team in Rochester or St. Cloud, for two reasons: It would allow them to pick a coach who runs the same systems as the NBA club and it'd allow players to easily practice with the Wolves in the afternoon and play in the D League at night.
Iowa is the best they can do for now, the closest team in the 17-team D League.
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