MINNEAPOLIS (AP) - Chase Budinger lingered after practice on Monday, taking mini-hops as he started to put up jumpers on his surgically repaired left knee.
He's nowhere close to playing in a game for the Minnesota Timberwolves, but Budinger was just happy to be around his teammates again after more than a month of rehab in isolation.
''It feels good to be back around the team,'' Budinger said. ''It was kind of getting a little lonely down there in Florida so it feels great to be back.''
The forward signed a three-year, $16 million deal in July, but re-injured the same knee that kept him out for four months last year while he was working out to prepare for this season. Dr. James Andrews performed the surgery, this time removing the damaged portion of the meniscus rather than repairing it as doctors did last year in hopes of shortening the recovery time. Budinger stayed in Florida to work closely with rehab specialists until he was ready to start doing basketball-related activities.
The Wolves are still not putting a timetable on his return to the court, but it would appear that it won't be realistic until the middle of next month at the earliest.
''I'm just taking it week by week,'' Budinger said. ''I am progressing very well each week. But I can't really tell when I'll be back practicing or playing. Right now it's going slow. We're taking our time, getting it right, getting it strong so when I do get on the court it will be 100 percent.''
He is certainly missed.
The Timberwolves are off to an impressive 7-4 start, but the biggest problem they've faced in the early going is a second unit that has struggled to hold things together on the court when the starters head to the bench. The offense has often been stagnant without Kevin Love, Kevin Martin and Ricky Rubio on the floor.
Getting Budinger back would be a big help. He's a reliable shooter from the perimeter and one of the best players on the team when it comes to reading coach Rick Adelman's offense, making the right cuts and keeping the ball moving.
But he won't be back in time to bolster the Wolves during a tough early portion of the schedule. For the first time in the franchise's history, the Wolves play 18 games before Dec. 1. They play five in seven nights this week, with the Clippers, Nets, Pacers and Rockets all waiting after the Wolves play at Washington on Tuesday night.
''It's going to make us that much stronger (when he comes back),'' Adelman said. ''We just have to keep maintaining right now. That's the biggest thing, how our guys respond during this tough part of the schedule.''
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