Ruled out Monday by his coach for the rest of the season because of continuing ankle and foot problems, Timberwolves starting center Nikola Pekovic will undergo surgery next week to remove damaged tissue and repair his right Achilles tendon, the team said Thursday.
It is something of a last-resort option to resolve recurring pain in Pekovic's right ankle that dates back at least to 2012, when he had springtime surgery to remove bone spurs.
Pekovic played just 31 games this season because of what the team once termed bursitis and more recently called a "sore" ankle that also limited him to 54 games played last season.
Next Wednesday's "debridement" surgery by Dr. Robert Anderson in Charlotte, N.C., is the next step in a process during which other options — everything from various treatments and repeated doctors' visits to a trip to Portland, Ore., so he could be better fitted by Nike for a sneaker — have failed.
A team statement said Pekovic will be sidelined "indefinitely" in a season that has just seven games remaining.
Depending upon the damage found, Pekovic likely will be in a cast and on crutches for at least six weeks, could be back walking within two months and working his way back into basketball shape by the time training camp opens in October but possibly not back to full strength for a year, according to a foot and ankle surgeon not involved in Pekovic's treatment.
The Wolves owe Pekovic nearly $36 million for three more seasons beyond this one. He signed a five-year, $60 million contract in August 2013.
On Monday, Wolves coach Flip Saunders said Pekovic won't play again this season.
On Wednesday, he said, "We've got to do something. We're not just going to sit there. We tried different ways to let it heal, trying to be as proactive as we can.
"… We have to re-evaluate what we do with him. He's constantly seeing doctors the last three weeks. We'll see where it takes us."
For now, it will take Pekovic to North Carolina and the surgeon's scalpel.
The debridement portion of the surgery will clean out whatever abnormal tissue Anderson finds around Pekovic's Achilles tendon and re-attach the tendon to the bone. That could be degenerative scar tissue, tears, fluid-filled sacs, calcium deposits and/or bony spurs, said Dr. Phillip Kwong from Los Angeles' Kerlan-Jobe Orthopaedic Clinic.
In rare situations, a "tendon transfer" is needed to strengthen the Achilles. A tendon that attaches to Pekovic's big toe likely would be clipped and attached to his Achilles if needed. There are no plans to do so, but it's an option depending on the quality of tissue the surgeon finds.
That would lengthen the rehabilitation process and could require a full year before Pekovic is completely healthy, Kwong said.
Kwong said surgeries such as Pekovic's usually are a last option and possibly career-threatening.
"I'm sure they've exhausted other things if they have to resort to this," Kwong said. "It depends on what they find. If these things persist, they can be career-ending."
Pekovic has missed the past 12 games and hasn't played since a March 11 game at Phoenix.
"It's like, just tough," Pekovic said last month. "I feel really bad, but you can't help it. At some point, you know you have great reason [for surgery].
"It's not something you can do about it so, hopefully, it just gets better."