"That's the worst-case scenario," coach Dwane Casey said Monday. "That's a scenario that's there, that's real, and we have to be prepared for that. Hopefully it won't be for the whole season, but we're not going to put a timetable on it and rush him back."
McCants had soreness in his knee late last season, and Casey said it really started to flare up as the first-year player intensified his offseason workouts. McCants had surgery June 16, the same procedure that kept Phoenix star Amare Stoudemire out for most of last season.
The Timberwolves appear to be using Stoudemire's case as a cautionary tale. He missed the first 66 games of last season after having the same surgery on his left knee. He tried to come back but lasted only three games before being shut down again with problems in his right knee, which developed while he was rehabilitating the more serious injury to the other knee.
"We want to be conservative in the fact that we don't want to rush him back, particularly with that injury," Casey said of McCants. "You try to rush a player back too soon, like Amare Stoudemire did, and it causes more problems."
Losing McCants for the entire season would be another crushing blow for a franchise that is still hung over from missing the playoffs for two straight seasons after a trip to the Western Conference finals in 2004.
The 14th overall selection out of North Carolina got off to a slow start this season but blossomed down the stretch.
McCants averaged 7.9 points in 79 games this season but topped double figures in the last 12 games of the season as Casey increased his role with the team eliminated from playoff contention. He scored 28 points in a win over the Hawks on April 9 and developed into one of the team's best perimeter shooters, and one of the few young players on the team to build around.
McCants shot 37.2 percent from 3-point range, a franchise record for rookies. The turning point appeared to come after a midseason trade sent Wally Szczerbiak to the Celtics and opened up more playing time for the sweet-shooting guard.
"He worked, he took the game seriously, he changed his approach and was really coming along," Casey said. "It will setback his progress. The most important thing is for him to continue his rehab and work hard on his rehabilitation and keep the same approach and focus that he had during the last two months of the season."
McCants spent the first few days after surgery at former MVP Kevin Garnett's house, a situation that Casey said helped lighten the youngster's mood.
"He's going to fight this injury and come through and be a big part of this organization," Casey said.
Microfracture surgery is becoming more common, with Stoudemire, New Jersey's Jason Kidd and Denver's Kenyon Martin among the recent high-profile NBA players to have it done.
Martin hasn't been the same player since having the surgery; Kidd was able to come back; and the jury is out on Stoudemire.
"As long as you don't rush it back, you can do the same things," Casey said. "If there is a decrease in explosion, I think Rashad's game also is a 3-point shooting game. He has post moves around the basket. Hopefully those areas will increase also. I think he'll do a great job and our training staff intends on
working hard to bring him back in the right way so that he doesn't lose the explosion that he has."