Flip Saunders says he expects Nikola Pekovic to be back with T’Wolves next season

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Nikola Pekovic had a breakout year for the Timberwolves, and is a very nice piece to have as a core member of the starting lineup for a team on the rise.

New president of basketball operations Flip Saunders intends to keep it that way in Minnesota, and said that even though Pekovic is a restricted free agent this summer, he expects to b able to retain the big man’s services.

From Phil Ervin of Fox Sports North:

“Pek’s a restricted free agent, so we expect that he’s going to be back,” Saunders said. “We feel he’s a valuable part of where we’re going, and we’ll do what we have to do to try to bring him back. I think Kirilenko’s the same way. Until he exercises his option, we feel he’s a guy that’s going to come back.”

It’s good news for the fan base that Pekovic is high on Saunders’ list of priorities. The center started in all 62 games in which he appeared, and averaged 16.3 points and 8.8 rebounds in 31.6 minutes per game last season.

He’ll undoubtedly be coveted on the free agent market, but the Timberwolves will have the right to match any offer Pekovic receives once they tender him a qualifying offer of between $5 and $6 million, which seems to be the direction the franchise is headed.

As for the likelihood of Andrei Kirilenko returning, that’s hardly news. He was serviceable last season with averages of 12.4 points, 5.7 rebounds, and 2.8 assists, but his player option for over $10 million next season far outweighs his on-court contributions.