As the Grizzlies made a playoff push over the summer in the NBA bubble, they did so without Apple Valley native and former Timberwolves guard Tyus Jones.
Jones watched his team secure the No. 9 seed and lose a play-in game against Portland but couldn't play because of a knee injury.
So like a lot of Wolves players, Jones will be playing his first competitive basketball since COVID-19 postponed the league's season in March when he returns home for the first of two preseason games between the Wolves and Grizzlies.
"It was tough not being able to get out there with my guys, especially with what was at stake," Jones said this week. "You always feel like you can help contribute and you want to help in any way that you can. Luckily, I haven't had to deal with many injuries in my career, so I'm not used to not getting out there."
Jones will be entering the second season of a three-year deal he signed with Memphis following restricted free agency with the Wolves in the summer of 2019. Wolves President Gersson Rosas opted to let Jones walk over the price tag of around $28 million so he could maintain salary-cap flexibility.
Rosas still had his eye on the point guard he coveted, D'Angelo Russell, even after missing out on Russell in free agency. The Wolves traded for Russell in February and then this summer traded for Ricky Rubio, giving them a formidable one-two punch at point guard. Letting Jones go was one price the Wolves had to pay to make that happen.
Jones was his typical steady self in his first season with Memphis. He averaged a career high 7.4 points per game to go with 4.4 assists and shot a career-best 38% from three-point range on 1.9 attempts per game.
Grizzlies coach Taylor Jenkins said the team missed Jones' presence on the court in the bubble.
"He means so much to us in so many different ways — his leadership, playmaking ability, his ability to connect so many different guys, the effort he gives," Jenkins said.
Above all, Jenkins said, Memphis likes the fact Jones is a "team-oriented player," which is something that won't surprise fans in Minnesota who followed his career from high school to Duke to the pros.
"The first couple of days of camp I wouldn't say it's the same old Tyus, it's a brand-new, great Tyus," Jenkins said. "There's comfortability of being in the same system again with his teammates and with him being a huge part of that, I think he's recognizing where he himself has to go and get better and how he can help the team get better."
Jones was looking forward to coming back to Minnesota, even if the circumstances around the virus make it a different kind of road trip.
"Everyone is trying to navigate what is smart to do in trying to balance being safe and still living our lives ..." Jones said. "It'll be different just because, in the season, trying to be smart, be safe, not put myself at risk or my teammates and my team at risk."
Jones didn't get to play hoops for a long time thanks to his injury, and he doesn't want to have it taken away from him again anytime soon.
"I'm a competitor, so I wanted to be out there on the court," Jones said. "That motivated me this offseason to attack rehab, get back healthy, get in great shape and be ready to go when this season got started."
•The Wolves signed guard Charlie Brown Jr. to a training camp contract, the team announced. Brown, 23, played in college at St. Joseph's and averaged 2.0 points in 10 games for the Hawks last season.
• Naz Reid will not play Saturday.