Injured Budinger, Turiaf move closer to return for Wolves

Forward Chase Budinger (left) has yet to play this season for the Wolves due to a knee injury, while big man Ronny Turiaf hasn't suited up since early November because of an elbow fracture.

Jesse Johnson, Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

MINNEAPOLIS — For the Minnesota Timberwolves, help is on the way.

Rick Adelman’s not sure when it will be here. Could be tonight, could be next week. But before too long, the coach says, injured Chase Budinger and Ronny Turiaf will be back in the mix.

They can’t come quickly enough.

"Those two guys will really help us with our rotation and off the bench and everything, so I don’t know when that is going to be," Adelman said when asked about the pair’s status, a daily topic of conversation around the Target Center these days. "I don’t think it will be too long, I hope."

Behind an overworked starting unit, Minnesota has labored of late to find an auxiliary scoring punch. Its interior defense leaves much to be desired, too.

Barring a trade or a midseason signing — which aren’t out of the question for president of basketball operations Flip Saunders — it’ll be incumbent upon Budinger and Turiaf to help provide both. There is no definite timetable for either player’s comeback, but their coach has expressed optimism lately that they’re close.

Budinger has been out since the start of the season after undergoing a second surgery on the same left-knee meniscus that cost him a good chunk of last year. From 2009-2012 in Houston, he developed a reputation as a potent off-the-bench scorer.

There was even a chance he’d wind up in the starting lineup after re-signing as an unrestricted free agent this offseason. Instead, that job has gone to Corey Brewer.

It’s been an up-and-down existence in that capacity for Brewer, who averages 12 points per game on 43.3 percent shooting heading into Monday night’s road clash with Philadelphia. His best season-long experience came during the past two years in Denver, where he came off the bench under George Karl.

But Brewer has only three fewer starts this season (33) than Budinger has for his entire four-year career.

It depends what Adelman desires offensively in each of his units; Brewer’s main area of expertise is in transition, while Budinger is better at stepping back and hitting 3s out of the coach’s patented corner half-court sets.

He’s a 35.8-percent career 3-point shooter and averaged 11.8 points per game last season before his first meniscus injury kept him out of 59 games.

"He knows when to cut, how to cut," Adelman said of Budinger, whom the coach tutored for two years with the Rockets. "He does a lot of things that help the rest of the guys."

If Adelman is considering starting Budinger instead of Brewer, it won’t happen right away. He’ll likely be on a trainer-recommended minutes limit.

"We need to get him on the floor to see how much he can help us, because he does give us another spacer and he’€™s really active," Adelman said.

Either Budinger or Brewer stands to assist a largely unproductive bench in desperate need of some offense. Minnesota’s reserves are scoring 23 points per game, the NBA’s second-worst mark.

In two of the past three games, they’ve scored five points each time out — all from J.J. Barea.

The bench also needs help on the interior, where rookie Gorgui Dieng is the only true option at center behind starter Nikola Pekovic. His inexperience — which manifests itself primarily at the offensive end — has forced Adelman to use a smattering of Pekovic, Love, Dante Cunningham and Luc Richard Mbah a Moute in the frontcourt and play Dieng only in certain situations.

Once the radial head fracture in his right elbow heals, Turiaf won’t be counted on to change games; the 30-year-old journeyman averages 9.5 minutes per outing during his nine-year career.

But he’s a big body in the paint that can alter shots while allowing Dieng to develop at a more gradual pace and perhaps even receive some minutes in the D-League to hone his skills.

"Ronny is a big difference, too," Adelman said. "Just his experience at the defensive end and he really knows how to play offensively, set screens."

Turiaf has never been much more than a backup. But from the time he was drafted up until the end of last season, he ranked fifth in the league in blocks per 48 minutes with 3.5.

For all its prowess, the frontcourt tandem of Love and Pekovic doesn’t scare any opposing guards or swing men from driving hard to the hoop. Minnesota’s blocked fewer shots than any other team in the league, and adversaries are scoring 46.5 points in the paint per game.

Turiaf was brought in this offseason to help diminish such numbers.

Defensive specialist Mbah a Moute (strained left groin) shouldn’t be out too long, either. But it’s both Budinger and Turiaf that Adelman is counting on to give his team a lift in what’s been an up-and-down season to date.

Both participated in full-contact scrimmages last week, and Adelman said they looked "fine."

The sooner that status improves to "ready," the better.

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