If this was the end for Nikola Pekovic, I will remember him for so much, both on the court and off of it. I will remember a man who grew from a baby-faced foul machine into a bearded behemoth with ballet footwork and a throwback game in the low post, the guy who abused smaller centers and danced around taller ones. I’ll remember that 15 game stretch during the 2013-14 season where he went for 22 and 10 per night on 56% shooting. I’ll remember him jokingly telling J.J. Barea that no one likes him, enthusiastically inviting Thad Young, Jr. to come over and play video games, and reporters that the Wolves were going to “forget” a nice win, prompting this reaction face from Ricky Rubio.
I will try to forget the 12 games he played in January, 2016 as a bombed-out remant of his former self, the tank whose wheels betrayed him. He looked out of shape, and for good reason – it’s hard to run when you’re dealing with the kind of Achilles injury that can only be classified as “career-threatening.” Other than some hopeful moments in his first game back (12 points on 3-of-4 shooting, and making it to the line six times in 16 minutes of action), there was never a time when Pek looked like Pek, and it’s becoming more and more likely, with each stop and re-start to his play-rehab-play-rehab merry-go-round, that he’ll never be anything close to Pek again.
The nitty gritty: Pekovic is owed $12.1 million, fully guaranteed, in 2016-17 and $11.6 million, partially guaranteed, in 2017-18. He played too many games to qualify for medical retirement, meaning if he does decide to call it a career, his salary will count against the cap for one year from the date he files the paperwork. In other words, the Wolves are stuck with his contract through at least next season. They could work on a buyout as a way to free up his roster spot, but since Glen Taylor is already paying Anthony Bennett and Kevin Martin not to play for the Wolves, that seems like a longshot.
All we can hope for is Arnie Kander to return to the Wolves, work his sweet voodoo magic on the big man’s foot, and let Pek be Pek again, even if it’s just for 15 minutes per night in 50-55 games next season. Because you don’t get that damn strong and that damn efficient without working like crazy, which Pekovic did. He was a very good player who was betrayed by his own feet, a familiar story among big men, but sad nonetheless. He deserves to go out better than this, and I, for one, will be pulling for him to do just that.