Two knee operations later, Chase Budinger has returned to the Wolves

MINNEAPOLIS — Kick back on a Florida beach, read a book,
grow a Fu Manchu.

Sounds great, doesn’t it?

Maybe for a 65-year-old retiree or a college kid on fall
break. Not for Chase Budinger while he tries to battle back from a second knee
operation in the past calendar year.

The Timberwolves small forward was back working with
teammates Monday for the first time since pre-training camp workouts. It was
then that he reinjured the left meniscus that cost him most of last season,
prompting a trip to Pensacola, Fla., to have a chunk of it surgically removed
followed by 2 ½ months of rehab before he was cleared to rejoin the team in
Minneapolis.

“I was kind of getting a little lonely down there in
Florida,” Budinger said after putting up some set jumpers during the
team’s post-practice shootaround.

After re-signing as an unrestricted free agent for three
years and $15 million, Budinger spent the rest of the summer molding his knee
back into full playing strength. He tore the meniscus in it Nov. 10 at Chicago
and didn’t return until March 21 — a 59-game span — and underwent reparative
surgery shortly thereafter.

It still wasn’t 100 percent when he returned, but Budinger
said about a week before camp he was getting pretty close.

Then, at some point while preparing for the preseason, it
flared up again. Budinger underwent an MRI that revealed another cartilage
injury, then visited renowned sports medicine practitioner Dr. James Andrews,
who determined it’d be more advantageous to remove part of the meniscus rather
than repair it as he had before.

Andrews performed arthroscopic surgery Sept. 30 at the
Andrews Institute for Orthopaedics and Sports Medicine and kept an eye on
Budinger there until this past weekend.

Running on an aquatic treadmill more than 1,200 miles away
from Minnesota instead of contending for a starting job was difficult, Budinger
said, but at least he knew what to expect this time around.

“I kind of know the routine, I know what to feel in my
leg and the process of when to be ready, when to start playing again,” said
Budinger, who was averaging 12.4 points per game before he got hurt a year ago.
“So the second time is a little easier.”

In his ample spare time, Budinger read close to 10 books
about preparedness and the mental aspects of sport his uncle had sent him and
worked on the bright, reddish-blonde mustache he’s currently sporting as part
of a team-wide no-shaving initiative.

The Gulf of Mexico sun was nice, too, Budinger said, but he
was thrilled to return and witness Minnesota’s blowout victory over Boston on
Saturday in person.

“It’s always difficult watching your team play and not
being able to help,” Budinger said, “but our guys are doing a great
job so far and I’m very proud of them, and hope when I do come back I can
increase our winning percentage and help our team in any way.”

Some 3-point shooting off the bench would be a nice
addition. But first, Budinger has to regain a lot more strength and movement in
his knee.

That means he can’t do much more than shoot baskets during
practice, perform glute and leg exercises and jog on a treadmill for the time
being. He won’t travel with the team for another two weeks, and neither he nor
coach Rick Adelman have offered a timetable for his return.

“Our people are gonna start working with him, and we’re
gonna just kind of take it slow to see where he’s at at this point,”
Adelman said. “He hasn’t had any swelling or anything, so then he’ll
probably ease back into where he’ll be with us, and they’ll just make what they
feel is best as far as progression goes.”

When asked if he’d be ready by Christmas, Budinger laughed
and said he’s “going week by week. I can’t pinpoint a date or anything
like that.”

But he can get up to speed on the nuances of Adelman’s
offensive and defensive schemes this season. Budinger’s already pretty familiar
with them from playing for Adelman in Houston two years ago and Minnesota last
season, but just having him around his comrades is a positive step, the coach
said.

The next milestone is to work Budinger into skeletal
five-man sets and re-familiarize himself with Kevin Love, Ricky Rubio and the
rest of the Timberwolves. Offseason addition Corey Brewer has started every
game on the wing, and Robbie Hummel is Adelman’s favorite backup three at the
moment.

“I think it’s always good to see what we’re doing and
be around the team,” said Adelman, whose 7-4 team travels to Washington on
Tuesday. “(Budinger) got hurt before we even had training camp, so he
really didn’t see a lot of guys.”

Said Budinger: “It feels great to be back.”

Muhammad practices: After spraining his left ankle Wednesday
against Cleveland and sitting out Minnesota’s past two games, rookie forward
Shabazz Muhammad worked out at a full-go Monday.

“He practiced today, but it’s still a little
tender,” Adelman said. “But he was able to go through everything, so
I think in the next couple of days, from my understanding, (head trainer Gregg
Farnam) said that he doesn’t have all of his explosiveness back, but he’s
running OK without any problems.”

Muhammad has accumulated 20 minutes in four appearances and
has gone 1-for-7 from the floor with two points and five rebounds.

Adelman didn’t have any update on center Ronny Turiaf, who
fractured his right arm in the Timberwolves’ second game of the season and
hasn’t returned since.

Turiaf hasn’t been able to practice in any capacity since
colliding with Oklahoma City’s Nick Collison and suffering a radial head
fracture in his right elbow.

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