For over a week, the Timberwolves have been without three players who were out because of the NBA's COVID protocols. They got one of those players back Friday night — Ricky Rubio.
The point guard was cleared to play and came off the bench in Friday's game against Atlanta. Juancho Hernangomez and Karl-Anthony Towns remained out under the protocols.
Coach Ryan Saunders said the Wolves would ease Rubio back into his full workload since he had not been with the team since entering the protocols Jan. 14. That likely means fewer minutes for Rubio until he gets back up to speed.
"Nothing simulates a game like a game," Saunders said. "So we expect him to probably have a little bit of wind issues, some wind issues, but we'll play him in shorter stints if we are able to have him."
Saunders said the Wolves gave Rubio, along with Towns and Hernangomez, workouts they could do while isolating.
"He's had workouts sent to his house and our strength and conditioning staff has done a great job making sure to keep in contact and keep him on track in terms of making sure he's eating right," Saunders said. "Ricky is a professional. We knew that when he was going to be out for a little bit and he was going to need some guidance, but he was also going to be somebody who was able to take care of himself. Much like the other two guys as well."
There was still no word on when Towns or Hernangomez might be able to work their way back.
Mentor speaks out
Thursday night, NBA fans on social media passed around and commented on a "Inside the NBA" clip of Shaquille O'Neal telling Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell in a postgame interview that Mitchell didn't have what it takes to be the kind of guard who leads his team to a title.
Among those who came to Mitchell's defense was Rubio, who was Mitchell's teammate in Utah for two seasons.
"... come on. Stop hating. He HAS it," Rubio wrote on Twitter. "Just go and watch his first playoff series as a rookie. Game 6. Last year playoff etc ... hard worker, never says anything wrong, all heart, elite scorer, humble, great teammate and he just keeps getting better year after year."
It was Rubio's first tweet in nearly a month. The Wolves brought Rubio back to Minnesota in part to have him mentor Anthony Edwards the way he mentored Mitchell in Utah.
Taking the long view
After Wednesday's loss to Orlando, Malik Beasley said he texted teammates an important historical reminder to keep perspective.
"I got to remind myself that Rome wasn't built in a day," Beasley said. "I texted the team that today and I had to remind myself that. Even though you're losing, it takes patience and time.
Injuries and the expedited start to the season are preventing the Wolves from reaching that ideal, Beasley said.
"We haven't had our guys. This is the first year with each other. We haven't had a full training camp, but at the end of the day, we are improving and Rome will be built soon. We'll put it all together soon."