MINNEAPOLIS — It does seem risky, paying an injury-prone big man $60 million over five years.
That’s the reported figures for recently signed Timberwolves center Nikola Pekovic, who in three NBA seasons has never played more than 65 games. A hurt calf here and an abdominal strain there kept him out of 17 contests last season.
And to think Pek had the best fortunes of Minnesota’s top trio.
This year, the Timberwolves will fork out somewhere in the neighborhood of $29.4 million for three players who missed a combined 109 contests during last year’s rancid, 31-51 campaign. There’s pressure on Pekovic, Kevin Love and Ricky Rubio to remain healthy enough to earn their keep, especially with expectations on the upswing following what most consider a successful personnel overhaul this offseason.
But their employer bears plenty of responsibility in that endeavor, too, one of its alpha wolfs wants to make clear.
“That’s something we need to address as an organization, and we are,” president of basketball operations Flip Saunders said. “It’s also our job to do what we need to do to try to have more situations conducive to our players to play at a high level and not be hurt.
“So we’re gonna try to be cutting-edge.”
That means hiring one or two more staffers to assist athletic trainer Gregg Farnam and his assistant Dave Crewe in preventing and treating injuries, Saunders said. The plan is to add someone with a strong strength and conditioning background like Crewe and possibly a physical therapist.
Farnam has been with the team for 15 years and also has spent many offseason hours working with USA Basketball. Crewe completed his first season as the Timberwolves’ assistant athletic trainer and strength and conditioning coach after a three-year stint with the NFL’s Kansas City Chiefs. While those two are kept plenty busy, keeping players healthy extends far beyond the Target Center Lifetime Fitness center’s walls.
Almost every NBA player has a personal offseason trainer. Placing all parties on the same page when it comes to working out a particular athlete is crucial, said Saunders, who believes a lot of injuries happen when athletes actually put in too much work.
“I believe that we sometimes over-train,” Saunders said. “It’s getting to the point where coaches work guys, they want to get them working on the floor, the strength coach wants to show his importance so he gets them into the weight room and he works them, he gets done and then all these guys have personal trainers, they want to show that they’re working, so they take them out and they work them to where the players are almost working too much.”
For that reason, Saunders is a huge proponent of cross-training.
Love’s offseason workouts have included a lot more yoga, while Rubio’s taken to the outdoors more than ever to stay in shape. His conditioning program this summer included 25-to-30-mile bike rides through the mountains of Spain and kayaking in the ocean.
Rubio missed the first quarter of last season while recovering from a torn ACL.
Others, like longtime workout partners Kevin Martin and Corey Brewer — both signed as unrestricted free agents last month — still stick with more traditional routines. Both recently embarked on a six-week training program in Tampa, Fla., with trainer David Thorpe.Whatever they do between the season’s final whistle and October training camp is up to them, but the biggest concern for Saunders is that they don’t do too much.
“I think there needs to be a meeting of the minds of getting all people together,” Saunders said, “and really getting a good plan and a good format that players are doing the right thing.”
Better training facilities on the home front wouldn’t hurt, either. The Timberwolves are currently confined to a private portion of their arena’s attached Lifetime Fitness center, one of the smallest practice venues in the league.
Both the NBA team and its WNBA counterpart Minnesota Lynx are in search of a separate practice facility that offers more space and more training and medical equipment. Plans for that project are still in their infancy and won’t gather much steam until the Timberwolves and the city of Minneapolis come to terms on $100 million in Target Center renovations that are part of the Vikings stadium bill.
Without such efforts, guys like Pekovic won’t be nearly as likely to complete his goal of playing in all 82 regular-season games this season.
No one around the franchise wants to see another year like 2012-13.
“We’ve got a great potential,” said Pekovic, who said he’s feeling 100 percent at the moment. “We just need to stay healthy. That’s all. Ricky and Kevin, especially Kevin — he is All-Star player — him, me and Ricky, we can do a lot of good stuff.
“If we’re healthy and we’re all together, we can do many, many good things.”