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Blazers Could Offer RFA Contract to Minnesota’s Nikola Pekovic

Pekovic Print

Last year the Blazers decided to offer the Pacers’ Roy Hibbert a gargantuan contract through restricted free agency that was met with split approval. As often the case is in Portland, Neil Olshey will be searching for the missing piece to send the Blazers past the first round of the playoffs. While the bench has been the most glaring issue with the team this season, Nikola Pekovic has been the discussion as Portland looks to target another center through the RFA process this summer. The question is, will signing Pekovic be the piece the Blazers need?

Pekovic’s value to the Blazers (and indeed any team) hinges around the size of his contract. The salary cap for 2013-2014 has not yet been released, and the cap has stayed at $58.044 million the last two years in a row. The cap is relative to the amount of BRI the league takes in during a 12-month period. David Stern was quoted in November as saying BRI could reach as high as $5 billion for the year ending in June 2013, an insane number. Equally as insane would be the potential that number has to affect salary cap and subsequent contract offers.

A far more reasonable number to estimate off of is the one provided by CBA FAQ at around $4.481 billion. Using that as projected BRI, the salary cap for the 2013-2014 NBA season could sit around $62.95 million.

So where does that put Pek?

It’s no secret that big men in the NBA are paid well. We’ve seen Tyson Chandler, Zach Randolph, and Marc Gasol are all playing for big money. Indeed, Zach Harper of A Wolf Among Wolves estimates that Pek will command a max contract offer in restricted free agency this summer.

A max contract for Pek would look something like this:

Year 1 Year 2 Year 3 Year 4 Total
$15.7 MM $16.5 MM $17.1 MM $17.9 MM $67.2 MM

How terrifying.

For the Blazers, they could easily fit that amount of salary under the suggested cap (they are at $42 million dedicated now with another $5 million in non-guaranteed contracts). The issue would sit with whether or not they felt that it would be pertinent to pay a 27-year-old center more money than anyone on the team, and whether Pekovic is the missing piece the Blazers need. Put simply, is Nikola Pekovic good enough for the Blazers to extend a max contract to?

Pek has obvious value to the Timberwolves. Over the last two seasons he’s been a part of the best 5-man-unit and a quick glance at the rebounding numbers shows he has an obvious affect on team rebounding when he’s on the floor. This year, he has great WS/48 numbers and is averaging the (near) double-double Blazers fans have become accustomed to through JJ Hickson. This goes without saying, but Synergy confirms that Pekovic is a better post defender and individual defender than JJ. On the floor, Pek is an obvious upgrade to Portland’s starting five, and a valuable member of the Wolves.

But what if the Timberwolves match?

If they did, the Timberwolves would be right up against the cap or barely over depending on who they option/cut/give a qualifying offer to. The Timberwolves would be paying Pek more than Kevin Love if they matched a max offer, which is ridiculous on its face. But Love may leave the Timberwolves, and if that happens it would be a smart move to retain Pekovic.

Perhaps more interesting than whether the Blazers should offer Pek a contract is whether David Kahn wants to make the Blazers sweat it out, holding up their cap space until the final possible moment. While this would keep the Blazers from making an offer at any other big-level free agents, it would also keep them just shy of being able to offer to a sixth man like Corey Brewer until after they make their move.

Signing Pekovic away would be a move that might be too much to swallow for Portland. The Blazers have a young core that will bode well for future salary cap considerations. If they sign Pekovic, they would end up with a few million left to sign their bench players. It would require Will Barton to drastically increase his efficiency, and it might even mean trading away Wesley Matthews in order for some cap relief or a draft pick. If the Blazers cut Pavlovic and Ronnie Price, the Blazers would look like this:

Point Guard Shooting Guard Small Forward Power Foward Center Salary Cap Space
Damian Lillard Wesley Matthews Nic Batum LaMarcus Aldridge Nikola Pekovic $51.7 million
N/A Will Barton Victor Claver Joel Freeland Meyers Leonard $6.5 million
N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A $58.2 million $4.75 million

That would leave just $4.75 million to arrange between at least three roster spots. Up against the cap, with no bench but a great starting line, it’s hard to imagine the Blazers doing any better than they will do in the 2011-2012 season. The Blazers are used to playing their starters 40+ minutes and then sending in the bench from the land of misfit toys. Even with the evolution of Damian Lillard and Meyers Leonard, they won’t be able to play enough minutes to make up for the significant absence of a bench.

The best team for Nikola Pekovic is the team that he’s on. With trouble brewing in Minnesota, keeping their stars through the avenues outlined in the CBA will be their best route. For Portland, it doesn’t seem that adding another $15 million dollar man to the squad is the key to the success Paul Allen has desired for almost two decades.

Watch them try to sign him anyways.

Dane Carbaugh

Editor of Playbook Breakdowns on BlazersEdge. Newsdesk writer for SB Nation NBA. Follow me at @DaneCarbaugh