Wolves Look To Depth As Budinger Set To Undergo Knee Procedure

Wolves Look To Depth As Budinger Set To Undergo Knee Procedure

Mark Remme
Wolves Editor/Writer

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Timberwolves forward Chase Budinger said midway through last week that he was finally getting trust back in his surgically-repaired left knee. Yes, there was still some soreness there, but it no longer felt like there was a brick attached to that left leg. He was feeling better with his leaping ability, and he was able to move around the court without thinking about the consequences of his springy style of play.

On Friday, that changed. The Wolves announced Budinger would need a procedure done after suffering a cartilage injury to that left knee before he is able to play this season. No timetable was announced, but Budinger will at least undergo a scope to try and once and for all get his knee back to full strength.

He will meet with Dr. James Andrews in Alabama early next week to put a timetable on his procedure, and Wolves President of Basketball Operations Flip Saunders said Budinger might also see Dr. Richard Steadman in Colorado. While it remains open ended about when he’ll be ready to return, it appears the Timberwolves will need to prepare for a preseason and part of the regular season without their newly re-signed swingman.

“The main thing with Chase is we want to get it right,” Saunders said at a press conference on Friday. “He worked hard, he really progressed. A month ago, he was down and he had a checkup with Andrews, and at the time everything was fine. We’ll know more when he gets with him. They’ll know more when they get in there in the arthroscopic surgery and see what’s in there.”

What is certain is that this changes the Wolves’ perimeter dynamic. Minnesota looked forward to having a healthy Budinger on the wing this year because he’s a game-changer within Adelman’s system. He comes off the bench, forces defenses to honor his ability to hit 3-pointers, takes the ball to the rim and moves exceptionally without the ball. Adelman trusts him to make the right cuts and keep the motion within the offense fluent, and it was evident the type of impact he made when he returned from missing 59 games last year due to meniscus surgery.

Still, the Wolves are optimistic that in the long run this can be a positive. With Budinger’s minutes being divvied up, this is a chance for Minnesota’s roster to get more time and experience across the board. Saunders said the reason teams try to achieve roster balance is to be able to handle when injuries occur—and they do happen. Minnesota’s year last season was more of a hyperbole turned reality, but in Saunders’ 20 years of coaching he’s seen plenty of instances where injuries tested the will of his club.

His example on Friday was Wally Szczerbiak missing the first half of the Wolves’ season in 2003-04, making his return on Feb. 19 and playing a total of 28 regular season games. Saunders said during his absence, players like Trenton Hassell stepped up. By the time Szczerbiak returned, the team was better balanced due to experience, and Szczerbiak’s legs were in mid-season form while others were starting to lag heading into the postseason.

“When you look at a negative, you hope down the road it will end with a positive at that spot,” Saunders said. “When he comes back, it’s almost like you’re making a trade.”

Minnesota already had Corey Brewer on this roster, and because of his defensive ability he was likely the top candidate to be the starting small forward next to Kevin Martin at the 2. For the Wolves, those bench minutes will likely now come in two forms: Derrick Williams and Shabazz Muhammad.

Williams dabbled with moving to the 3 during his stint on the 2012 Summer League squad and got some minutes early on in camp and the preseason in that role. With Kevin Love’s hand injuries last season, he resumed his normal role at power forward—although it appeared the Wolves felt more comfortable with him there than at the 3 because of the quickness needed to be effective on both ends of the court.

Coming off a summer working out on the West Coast, Saunders said Williams is down to about 236 pounds. While Williams did come into last season having lost weight as well, Saunders said this time around it’s a noticeable difference that could translate to his quickness on the court.

His ability to guard people on the perimeter will be the key.

“We’ve talked prior about losing weight and getting quicker to be able to do those things,” Saunders said. “When I see players lose weight…they show discipline and commitment coming into a season. When you’re a coach or a manager or a fan, you’ve got to be excited about that.”

Williams did improve his statistics over the stretch run last year, putting up 15.5 points per game and shooting 43 percent from the field in March, then following that up with 13.1 points and connecting on 40.9 percent of his 3-point attempts in April.

Muhammad, a talented first-round pick in June’s Draft, was likely more of a complementary piece that could be eased into playing time with Budinger healthy. Now, he’s likely going to be given more opportunities to contribute right away.

Saunders said he’s lost 15 pounds over the last month—he showed his hops during a recent practice at LifeTime Fitness Training Center, and he looks slimmed down. The Wolves dealt for him on Draft night because he is a pure scorer with athletic ability, and if he can add a little offensive punch off the bench, that will translate into helping ease the loss of Budinger for however long that might be.

It does also open up an even more spirited competition during training camp for that final roster spot. Forward Robbie Hummel will be in camp vying for a chance to secure a spot on the perimeter with his jump-shooting, and Othyus Jeffers will also have a chance to show his defensive acumen is a strong addition to this club.

If Williams and Muhammad—or Hummel and/or Jeffers—are able to transition into handling some of the work load on the wing at the NBA level, it will certainly help ease Minnesota’s needs. And as Saunders said, the team does still have Rick Adelman on the bench—his key to success over the past two decades and 1,000-plus wins is that he can adjust to the type of personnel sent his way.

Moving forward, Saunders said this just gives others a chance to step up and improve as the team awaits Budinger’s return.

“You try to minimize [injuries], but as organizations what you try to do is minimize what injuries do to you,” Saunders said. “What you do is put a team together that has depth. We’ve worked very hard in order to do that.”

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