MINNEAPOLIS – Negotiations with restricted free agent Nikola Pekovic have dragged on for well over a month now with no apparent end in sight.
That has done little to diminish Minnesota Timberwolves president of basketball operations Flip Saunders' confidence that a deal will ultimately come together. The contract talks with one of the best offensive centers in the game are "moving in a positive direction," Saunders said on Monday.
The Timberwolves have offered Pekovic a four-year deal worth roughly $48 million. Because Pekovic is a restricted free agent, the Wolves have the right to match any offer he receives from another team. But the longer the summer goes, the less likely it appears that Pekovic will get a substantial offer from anyone else.
Pekovic posted career highs with 16.3 points and 8.8 rebounds in 62 games last season for the Timberwolves. He has spent his first three seasons in the NBA in Minnesota after coming over from playing in Greece, and the Timberwolves want to keep him here. In addition to his polish and nimble feet on the low block, the Timberwolves also view him as an underrated defender against the pick-and-roll sets that dominate the league these days.
"I do believe that Pek knows what we have in place, the people we've brought in, that this is a positive place," Saunders said. "I'm confident we'll have a meeting of the minds."
He termed the talks with Pekovic's agent, Jeff Schwartz, as cordial. Saunders has met with Schwartz in person to try to get a deal finished, but with no other offers on the table and training camp still more than a month and a half away, there hasn't been real sense of urgency to get a deal done.
"Jeff and I have had very good conversations," said Saunders, who has been adamant since taking over for the fired David Kahn that the Wolves would do whatever it takes to keep Pekovic. "Nothing's been adversarial. There's things that we've agreed upon. There's things we've agreed to disagree upon. I think we're moving in the right direction."
Pekovic has spent the summer at home in Montenegro and recently pulled out of the European championships because he hasn't signed a contract. He has missed big chunks of time due to injury in each of his first three seasons, so he simply couldn't afford to play in the hyper-competitive tournament in Europe and risk getting hurt without a signed contract.
"I believe we're moving forward," Saunders said. "I think it's been more of an education process on both sides about why they believe where each is at, as far as offers. I think we're moving in a positive direction."
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