Green Target: Could the Celtics make a run at Wolves center Nikola Peković?

The Celtics are in the midst of an off-season for the ages. They do not know if Doc Rivers, Paul Pierce, or Kevin Garnett will return next season, this despite the fact that they currently hold contractual rights to all three. They also have their highest draft pick in six years, and are working out a boatload of players to see who they want to select with the 16th pick on June 27th.

While nothing has happened yet, the next few weeks promise a flurry of activity across the board for the Celtics as they gear up for the 2013-14 season. Among the action will be the teams pursuit of free agents, as teams are allowed to begin negotiations with players on July 1st, and players can sign with teams starting as early as July 10th.

With that in mind, we'll be taking a look at a slew of potential free agents over the next few weeks, baring in mind that the Celtics salary cap situation is still very unsettled.

Today will start with Timberwolves center, and impending free agent, Nikola Peković.

Who is Peković?

Peković is a 27 year old center from Montenegro who just finished his 3rd NBA season with Minnesota. He put up career highs in points (16.3) and rebounds (8.8) while shooting 52% from the floor and 74% from the line. He's not much of a shot blocker (career 0.7 blocks per game), but the 6'11" big man is quickly developing into one of the most skilled offensive centers in basketball. Here's are his statistics, courtesy basketball reference.

What's his free agent status?

A bit clouded. Peković is a restricted free agent this summer, meaning he can sign an offer sheet with any team, but Minnesota has the right to match the deal and retain him. However, the Timberwolves have some tough decisions to make over the next few seasons which could lead them to passing on matching what should be a healthy offer to "Pek". For one, Minnesota has star power forward Kevin Love under contract for three more seasons, but Love has an opt-out before the final season of his deal, and will surely take advantage of that to procure a maximum contract. That same summer, the summer of 2015, Ricky Rubio hits free agency as well. If Pekovic gets a 4 year deal on the open market, his contract could end up costing Minnesota Love or Rubio two years down the line. It would also push the small market Wolves right up to the salary cap line this upcoming season, something a team without much hope for a playoff run might try to avoid.

So while the Wolves have the right to match, there's a very realistic chance that they keep that money in the piggy bank with 2015 in mind.

Can the Celtics afford him?

Again, it's clouded. We've talked about it a few times, but the Celtics cap situation is tied to the futures of Pierce and Garnett. As of now, the team cannot make any moves this off-season beyond the mid-level exception and minimum salary guys, but that could change. If KG retires, and Pierce is amnestied, Boston would create approximately $12-13 million in cap space for next season. The team could also decline Pierce's option and shop Brandon Bass, Jason Terry and Courtney Lee around to teams currently under the cap, hoping that a talent strapped club sees value in their skill-sets (unlikely, but possible). It's tough to put an exact number on what Peković will make this summer, but looking at big time restricted free agents that have signed offer sheets, he will likely get a 4 year deal at anywhere from $10-13 million per season. So the Celtics have an outside shot, but it will take multiple moves for them to create the required space.

How would he fit the C's roster?
Bonus: Pekovic looks like a villain from an 80's movie

I mean he's gigantic (6'11", 290 pounds), a really good post presence, and an above average rebounder. In other words — yea the Celtics could use him. The biggest question in obtaining Peković would be his defense, and whether a Pek-Sullinger frontline is good enough on that end of the floor to hang with some of the better big men in the league. While the answer to that question is a sturdy "maybe", the theme of this year's free agent crop seems to be "talented offensive big men with questionable defensive habits". Seriously, take a look. Al Jefferson, Paul Millsap, J.J. Hickson, Andray Blatche and Peković are all immensely skilled on offense, but lack elite defensive skills. In other words, KG's replacement ain't walking through that door. But if the C's do find themselves with cap space this summer, they will have plenty of options when it comes to big men with skills down low. And that's something they've needed for quite some time.

If the C's could land Pek with a 4 year, $48 million offer sheet, they'd enter next season with a roster of:

Starting Five

PG Rajon Rondo, age 28
SG Avery Bradley, 23
SG Jeff Green, 27
PF Jared Sullinger, 21
C Nikola Peković, 27


Jason Terry, 36
Courtney Lee, 28
Brandon Bass, 28
Jordan Crawford, 25
Fab Melo, 23
Terrence Williams/Shav Randolph/D.J. White (non-guaranteed deals)
- Whoever they draft at #16
- The ability to use the full mid-level exception (4 years, $21.5 million)

I know some folks want Pierce and KG back at all costs, but the above team has some potential, and has only one player over the age of 28. No they would not win a championship next year, but they'd have a ton of assets, and the ability to compete for a playoff spot. In the NBA, that's not a bad place to be.

One of the best things Celtics fans can do over the next few weeks is keep an open mind. If Garnett and Pierce return, gear up for the "Celtics last stand" and enjoy the hell out of it, but if the team does decide to move forward without Pierce (and KG walks away), don't get too down. The team wouldn't be in terrible shape, especially if they can find a way to lure a big man to Boston.

Follow Mike on twitter - Mike_Dyer13

Peković is just the first guy we're looking at, we'll take a look at a bunch of other guys over the next few weeks. Let us know what you think in the comment section, is Pek a good fit? Bad fit? Leave your piece.

For a complete list of the Green Target series, click here