The Minnesota Timberwolves watched last season get derailed by a slew of significant injuries to key players. This season isn't getting off to a better start.
Swingman Chase Budinger will be out indefinitely after experiencing some discomfort and swelling in his left knee that will require surgery to remedy, the Timberwolves announced Friday. Budinger's loss comes three days before the Wolves are set to open training camp.
Even after playing in only 23 games last season because of a torn meniscus in his left knee, the Timberwolves made re-signing Budinger a priority this summer. Coach Rick Adelman loves Budinger's versatility, ability to move without the ball and perimeter shooting, three things that were severely lacking during last year's injury-plagued run. Budinger, Kevin Love, J.J. Barea, Nikola Pekovic, Andrei Kirilenko and several others missed extended time last season because of injuries, contributing to the Wolves extending the longest active playoff drought in the league to nine years.
Budinger went down early in the sixth game of last season and didn't return until the end of March. But the Wolves knocked on Budinger's door in the first hours the free agent market opened and signed him to a three-year, $15 million deal. Saunders said Budinger had a clean bill of health at the time and only recently started to experience some issues.
"From Chase's perspective and ours, it hurts a little bit," Saunders said. "But it's opportunity for other players."
Budinger will visit Dr. James Andrews on Monday. Saunders said he will have arthroscopic surgery to assess the extent of the damage and the team will know more about how long Budinger will be out after that procedure. Budinger also may visit Dr. Richard Steadman, who performed the surgery to repair point guard Ricky Rubio's torn ACL.
Opening the door
The injury opens the door for Derrick Williams, the No. 2 overall draft pick three years ago. After playing mostly power forward last year in place of Love, Williams went through rigorous workouts this summer to drop about 20 pounds and help him become quicker and more agile to play small forward. The team also signed veteran Corey Brewer and drafted Shabazz Muhammad from UCLA, so Saunders remains confident that they have enough depth to overcome the loss.
"It doesn't really change what we do, what our goals are and where we go as a team," Saunders said.
One of Saunders' big priorities when he was hired to replace David Kahn was to address the team's medical staff in hopes of helping the team better deal with injuries. He hired Koichi Sato as the team's director of sports performance and Mark Kyger as director of athletic therapy to work under head athletic trainer Gregg Farnam and bring a new perspective on strength training and physical therapy.
Saunders said that when news of Budinger's injury spread through Timberwolves headquarters, he heard several people say, "Here we go again."
But he said the Wolves are deeper and better equipped to withstand Budinger's loss. Now it's time for the players to prove him right.
"Everything is different," Saunders said. "Every year is different."