MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Nikola Pekovic’s combination of size and strength made him a productive and popular player early in his career with the Minnesota Timberwolves. He just may have been too big for his own good.
The Timberwolves waived Pekovic on Tuesday, likely ending a career that was derailed by foot and ankle problems over the past three seasons. Pekovic missed all of last season and played only 12 games the previous season, a disappointing development for a player that was on his way to being one of the most effective centers in the league when he signed a five-year, $60 million contract in 2013.
The 6-foot-11, 307-pound native of Montenegro was coming off a season in which he averaged 16.3 points and 8.8 rebounds and formed a formidable pick-and-roll tandem with Ricky Rubio. He was limited to 54 games in the first season of his new deal, but still averaged 17.5 points and 8.7 rebounds that season.
Called “The Godfather” for his menacing appearance on the court, Pekovic was a fan favorite. Affable off the court, he remained a popular figure with his teammates, who desperately missed his toughness and efficiency over the past couple of seasons.
The chronic foot issues really started to set in during the 2014-15 season, when he played in just 31 games. The Timberwolves and Pekovic tried numerous methods to address the problems, including surgeries, diets and different workout regimens. In the end, nothing worked.
He had Achilles tendon surgery on his right foot in 2015 as a last-ditch effort to revive his career, but the pain returned. He spent most of last season in Montenegro.
Pekovic still has one year remaining on this contract, but the team was able to work out an arrangement so that they can gain some salary cap relief heading into free agency, an important step for a team that wants to be aggressive in adding veterans to a young core that won just 31 games last season.
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