MINNEAPOLIS — Official preseason practices have yet to commence, and Chase Budinger’s left knee is already causing him problems again.
The Timberwolves announced Friday the small forward sustained a cartilage injury to his left knee while preparing for training camp, which begins Tuesday at Minnesota State in Mankato. Last season, Budinger had surgery for a torn meniscus in the same knee and missed 59 games as a result.
After injuries completely derailed its 2012-13 season, Minnesota can only hope Budinger’s latest issue isn’t as serious this time around.
“The first thing I heard from people right away was they said ‘here we go again,” president of basketball operations Flip Saunders said Friday. “You have to understand something: in the NBA, pro football, injuries are part of what our leagues are about. When you get great athletes with great ability that jump 40 inches off the floor and land on one foot, you’re gonna have some injuries. You try to minimize it.”
Budinger, who re-signed with the Timberwolves as an unrestricted free agent this offseason, will visit Dr. James Andrews in Birmingham, Ala., for arthroscopic surgery early next week, Saunders said.
The 6-foot-7, 220-pound swingman was expected to contend for Minnesota’s starting small forward job this year. He got off to the best start of his four-year career last season, averaging 12.4 points through five games.
But Nov. 10 at Chicago would bring his last game action until March 21. He finished out the season on a less-than-100-percent knee but was optimistic all offseason about how it felt.
Interviewed by reporters last week following a voluntary team workout, Budinger said it’s “way better” than it was in April.
“At the end of last season, I felt like I had a brick on that foot,” Budinger said. “I’m starting to get my hops back a little bit and have been able to take off on it and land on it and not even think about it.”
The knee was still sore after workouts, Budinger allowed, but he felt it was progressing.
An MRI revealed cartilage damage in it this week. Saunders declined to offer a firm timetable for Budinger’s return until Andrews can take a closer look Monday.
Budinger wasn’t the only key returner to miss a large chunk of time last season. Power forward Kevin Love broke his hand and underwent a knee operation of his own and appeared in just 18 games, Ricky Rubio missed 25 games while coming back from a torn ACL, and Nikola Pekovic sat out 20 contests with various nagging injuries.
The Timberwolves did sign another small forward this offseason, veteran unrestricted free agent Corey Brewer. But his skill set differs significantly from the 3-point prowess Budinger was hoped to provide this year.
Budinger is a career 35.8 percent 3-point shooter, while Brewer sports a 29.8 percent clip during his six years in the league. The latter is more renowned for his perimeter defense and ability to score in transition.
But he’s now first in line to take over the starting small forward gig.
Saunders also mentioned rookie first-round draft pick Shabazz Muhammad, Derrick Williams and Dante Cunningham as options at the three should Budinger miss some time.
“Unfortunate for him, but doesn’t change really what we do or what our goals are or where we go as a team,” Saunders said. “Maybe from Chase’s perspective and from ours it hurts a little bit, but it’s an opportunity for other players.”