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.
The Wolves officially announced this afternoon that Washington Wizards executive Milt Newton is their new general manager.
Newton, a member of the 1988 NCAA championship team under Larry Brown and with Danny Manning at Kansas, had been with the Wizards for the last decade, most recently as vice president of player personnel.
Flip Saunders worked with Newton when he coached the Wizards a few years back.
Before that, he worked for the NBA helping to create the D-League, was an assistant direction for USA Basketball men's national teams and was a scout for the 76ers.
If you're wondering, the GM title is just semantics: President of basketball operations still trumps all and Saunders still will be making the decisions.
Newton will assist Saunders in evaluation and acquistion of players and help Saunders manage basketball operations, the team said in a release announcing Newton's hiring.
Newton will be formally introduced as a Tuesday news conference at Target Center.
His hiring -- as well as the May hiring of Calvin Booth -- adds diversity to a Wolves front office that has noticeably lacked it during most of the team's 25 seasons.
The official hiring of former Gophers star and former Timberwolf Bobby Jackson as player development coach is next. That likely will come Monday.
For those asking, Jackson's arrival means Shawn Respert won't be back in that role. Respert and David Adelman both worked as player development coaches last season; Adelman has been promoted to an assistant coach now that Bill Bayno has taken a job with Toronto.
The Wolves are in contract discussions to bring former Gophers star Bobby Jackson back to Minnesota and back to the franchise as a player development coach to replace David Adelman, according to a league source.
Jackson starred for two seasons for that Gophers team that reached the 1997 Final Four -- or didn't, if you're the NCAA -- and played in the NBA for both Flip Saunders with the Wolves and Rick Adelman in Sacramento and Houston.
My colleague Sid Hartman phoned in the Jackson news to the sports desk late last night, too late for it to get into the paper, and a source confirmed it this morning.
Jackson was a Kings assistant coach the last two seasons -- and their basketball operations special assistant for two years before that -- before Sacramento made sweeping ownership and management changes last summer. The Kings announced in June that they were replacing their entire coaching staff, but said Jackson was the one assistant coach who would be retained in a different job.
Jackson played 123 games for Flip and the Wolves in the 1998-99 and 1999-2000 seasons and then played five seasons for Rick Adelman in Sacramento and won NBA Sixth Man award one of those seasons, in 2003.
Jackson, 40, would fill the job previously held by David Adelman, who has been promoted to full-time assistant now that Bill Bayno is gone to become Dwane Casey's first assistant in Toronto.
Expect those discussions with Jackson to be finalized and made official shortly.
The Wolves also are traveling down the same road with Washington front-office exec Milt Newton to join them in a general manager's type of role on the basketball personnel side.
Saunders interviewed Newton in Washington last week and both Newton and Wizards assistant trainer/rehab coordinator Koichi Sato are expected to come over from Washington. Sato likely will be named as the team's new strength coach.
Flip worked with both when he was the Wizards head coach.
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.
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