A Timberwolves team so beleaguered by injuries last season already has lost newly re-signed forward Chase Budinger before even rolling out the basketballs on Tuesday in Mankato to start another season.
Budinger needs arthroscopic surgery on the same left knee that sidelined him for four months last season because of pain and swelling that has developed recently.
He will return to see famed sports doctor James Andrews in Birmingham, Ala., on Monday and perhaps will visit Ricky Rubio’s knee doctor in Vail, Colo., as well.
Andrews performed surgery to repair torn meniscus cartilage in Budinger’s knee last November after he was injured in Chicago in the season’s sixth game. He returned in March after rehabilitating the knee and played the final 17 games.
The Wolves signed Budinger to a three-year, $15 million contract in July for his three-point shooting on a team that — without Budinger and All-Star Kevin Love for most of last season — was last in the league in three-point shooting a year ago.
His relationship with coach Rick Adelman, for whom he played in Houston and says, “I just fit perfectly in his system,” was a factor for both sides as well.
President of Basketball Operations Flip Saunders said a examination conducted then and a checkup with Andrews a month ago both showed no issues.
But Budinger experienced soreness and swelling recently, and a magnetic resonance imaging exam this week revealed, according to Saunders, “a little something in there.”
Arthroscopic surgery will explore what that little something is.
“It’s a setback,” Saunders said. “He has worked extremely hard over the last year to get back. He really progressed. The main thing with Chase is we want to get it right.”
Saunders said the team wouldn’t set a timetable — “Most of the time in these situations it’s six to eight weeks, but I’m not going to speculate” — on Budinger’s return until Andrews looks inside that knee.
Budinger last week declared his knee “way better” than how it felt when he ended last season.
“I felt like I had a brick on that foot,” he said then. “I’m starting to get my hops back a little bit now. I’m able to take off on it and land on it and not even think about it.”
But he also talked about his recovery being an “ongoing process” and said his knee still felt sore after playing pickup games and after working out.
“I still have to work out the kinks and go through icing and rehab and all that,” he said. “I’ll probably have to do that all season.”
He felt enough soreness and experienced enough swelling that an MRI was ordered this week.
And just like that, a Wolves team that lost 341 man-games to injuries last season already has an injury report before the season begins.
“I know the first thing I heard from people right away was, ‘Here we go again,’ ” Saunders said. “You need to understand something: In the NBA, in pro football, injuries are part of what our leagues are about. When you get great athletes with great abilities to jump 40 inches off the floor and land on one foot, you’re going to have some injuries. As organizations, what you try to do to minimize injuries is put a team together that has depth.”
With Budinger out, the Wolves still have Corey Brewer, Derrick Williams, rookie Shabazz Muhammad and power forward Dante Cunningham who can play that small-forward position. Training-camp invitees Robbie Hummel and Othyus Jeffers also will compete for a job at that spot.
Small forward is the only question mark in a Wolves starting lineup that has Ricky Rubio, Kevin Martin, Kevin Love and Nikola Pekovic set at the other four positions, and it was already that way before Budinger’s setback.
Now Brewer and Williams are the most likely candidates for that job.
“I said from the beginning our goal was balance our roster and when you do that, you gain depth,” Saunders said. “Maybe from Chase’s perspective and from ours it hurts a little bit, but it’s an opportunity for other players. It’s an opportunity for Corey, for Shabazz, for Derrick.
“You move forward as a group. We might be disappointed, but it doesn’t change where we’re going.”