Nikola Pekovic last appeared in an NBA game on January 31, 2016, which means that as of today, the Timberwolves are eligible to move forward with removing the veteran center from their books. In the event that a player like Pekovic – or fellow big man Chris Bosh – is deemed medically unfit to continue his basketball career, his team has the opportunity to take his salary off its cap, one year after his last game.
There are a few aspects to take into account as the Wolves consider their next move with Pekovic. For one, the determination on Pekovic’s health must be made by a doctor who is jointly approved by the NBA and the players’ union, so the team’s own doctor won’t be able to make that judgment.
If that independent doctor indeed rules Pekovic medically unfit to continue playing, Minnesota would immediately be able to eliminate his cap charges for the rest of his contract. The Wolves are currently on the hook for $12.1MM this season for Pekovic, and $11.6MM in 2017/18. The team would still have to pay that money, and it would continue to count toward the salary floor, but it would free up cap room, creating some spending flexibility for the franchise.
Before the Wolves move forward on this front, however, they’ll have to consider Pekovic’s stance. In Miami, Bosh has said he’ll do everything he can to return the court, despite blood clot concerns — if the Heat were to wipe his cap hits from their books and he’s eventually medically cleared and plays 25 games for another club, those salary charges would go back onto Miami’s cap, potentially creating major problems.
In Pekovic’s case, things look a little simpler. The big man is only under contract for one more year beyond 2016/17, and his cap hit isn’t as substantial as Bosh’s, so the financial risk of the move wouldn’t be as great for Minnesota. Additionally, Pekovic himself has acknowledged that his career may be over due to ankle and Achilles issues that have plagued him in recent years.
“For two years I have struggled with this injury,” Pekovic said last month. “I have been mentally exhausted. This year I went to Minneapolis for two months and I did everything possible to return to the court, but there are times when you simply can’t. I can’t run without pain.”
The Wolves are currently almost $13MM below the 2016/17 cap, so it’s not as if they need the extra space this season. But if Pekovic is prepared to accept medical retirement, it’s probably in the best interest of both sides to go down that road — he would still get paid, while Minnesota would gain significant financial flexibility for the coming summer. We should find out soon whether that’s the plan for the Wolves.