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Chase Budinger progressing, but taking it slow with rehab process

by Nate Sandell, 1500ESPN.com Updated 22 months ago | 1718 reads

MINNEAPOLIS -- Chase Budinger is back in the Twin Cities, but he is still a ways off from being ready for his return to the court for the Minnesota Timberwolves.

Out since September with his second knee injury in less than a year, Budinger had been stationed in Pensacola, Fla., since undergoing surgery on Sept. 30 to remove a quarter of his injured left meniscus.

Last week, the 25-year-old Wolves forward was given the go-ahead to begin doing light running and other basketball-related activities, allowing him to return to Minnesota on Saturday for the next stage of his rehab.

Budinger is relieved to be back with his teammates and happy with his progress, but a timetable for his return, even a self-imposed date, hasn't been set yet.

"I am progressing very well each week. But I can't really tell when I'll be back practicing or playing," Budinger said Monday, talking with reporters for the first time since before training camp. "Right now it's going slow, we're taking our time, getting it right, and getting it strong so when I do get on the court it will be 100 percent."

Budinger, with his left knee in a soft brace, was on the court at Target Center Monday to take a few shots after the Wolves concluded practice. Limited set and jump shots are about the extent of the basketball workouts he has been cleared to do so far. Off the court, he is working with team trainers to continue strengthening his knee.

The strenuous, mentally draining nature of the rehab process isn't new to Budinger. Able to play in only 23 games last season after knee surgery in November 2012, he was just starting to feel fully healthy in September. He had the extra reassurance of a freshly minted three-year, $16 million contract extension.

But just before the start of training camp he exaggerated his knee and was forced to undergo a scope to remove the damaged tissue still lingering after the first surgery.

Having a pair of derailing injuries so close to each other dealt a blow to Budinger's spirits. His family sensed he was struggling and were there to help out. Shortly after surgery, Budinger received a package from his uncle filled with motivational, self-help books. At that point, any little thing helped keep him on the right track.

"It was very difficult when I got news and how it happened right before the season. But I've been staying positive," Budinger said. "I've been reading those on my down time, and just staying positive, knowing I'm going to be back on the court.

Budinger and Wolves trainers are both exercising even more caution this time around as he progresses through his rehab. While no target date has been put in place, it seems unlikely he will be back in the Wolves' rotation before Jan. 1.

Under doctor's orders, Budinger won't travel with the team to Washington D.C., where the Wolves face the Wizards Tuesday in the first in a stretch of five games in seven days. Budinger projected that he could be allowed to travel in about two weeks.

Until then, he will stay locked into his rehab in Minneapolis. The next milestone Budinger wants to reach is being able to run through plays with his teammates, free of defenders in a five-on-zero setup.

Muhammad returns to practice

Rookie Shabazz Muhammad practiced Monday after being sidelined since spraining his right ankle Nov. 13 in the fourth quarter in the Wolves' rout of Cleveland.

Coach Rick Adelman said Muhammad was able to participate for the entirety of practice, but noted the ankle is "still a little tender" and his explosiveness is not completely back yet.

The Wolves hope it won't be much longer, because they are likely to need a few minutes from him and the rest of the bench as they traverse a grueling stretch of their schedule in the next three weeks. Adelman has been slow to use Muhammad early in the year, with the rookie forward having logged only two points in 20 minutes.

Nate Sandell is a contributor to 1500ESPN.com.
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