MINNEAPOLIS — Thursday, a few hours before the NBA Draft, the Minnesota Timberwolves eclipsed the initial hurdle toward retaining the services of a key asset already in the fold.
The team announced in a press release it’s extended the $6,046,500 qualifying offer on Nikola Pekovic’s contract, officially making him a restricted free agent when July 1 roles around. That day, the 6-foot-11 center’s allowed to begin formal negotiations with his present team, and he can entertain offer sheets from other organizations starting July 10.
Since his early-May hiring, Minnesota president of basketball operations Flip Saunders has called re-signing Pekovic a high priority. With Kevin Love sidelined most of last season, the big man from Montenegro tallied career highs in scoring (16.3 points per game), rebounding (8.8) and minutes (31.6). His 52-percent field-goal clip ranked 20th in the NBA.
Thursday’s expected formality opens the door to restructuring a new contract to keep Pekovic in the Twin Cities, likely in the neighborhood of $10 million-12 million per year. There’s a good chance Pekovic entertains offers from other teams in order to drive up his value. The Portland Trail Blazers, among other suitors, have been floated as a team interested in procuring him.
But Minnesota will have three days to match any offers to which Pekovic signs next month, and the Timberwolves say they’re intent on keeping him around.