CHICAGO - There was never any doubt where Eddie Jones was going to finish his NBA career.
"That ain't no news," Jones, the former Temple star, said the other day. "I'm here, and I'm happy to be here."
That would be Miami, where Jones played some of his best basketball in a 13-year career that has come full circle.
Miserably unhappy in Memphis at the beginning of the season, Jones sat with an Achilles injury while his agent and the Grizzlies worked out a buyout of the final year of his contract. After that, Jones was waived by the Grizzlies and signed a free-agent deal for the rest of the season with Miami, where he had played for five seasons before being traded in 2005.
When Jones, 35, left Miami, the Heat had just acquired Shaquille O'Neal from the Lakers. Now, Jones returns to a team that, after a season of turmoil, can still defend its championship. It won't be easy, especially after the Chicago Bulls took a lead of two games to none in their best-of-seven series with a 107-89 win last night.
"That's all you want in life, is a shot," Jones said. "You get the shot, you try your darnedest to get it. We're going to try our darnedest to get it."
The lack of a championship is the only major hole in Jones' otherwise-solid pro career.
Throughout his career, Jones has been the go-to guy on several playoff teams, including two with the Lakers and a younger O'Neal in the late 1990s. But Jones was quickly supplanted by Kobe Bryant in Los Angeles and traded away by Jerry West to Charlotte.
After three years with the Hornets, Jones got $93 million to go to Miami in a sign-and-trade deal with Charlotte in 2000. Pat Riley brought Jones, forward Brian Grant (who got an $86 million deal), and Anthony Mason south, and along with Alonzo Mourning and Tim Hardaway, Miami had the look of a juggernaut.
But the championships didn't flow. Mourning's kidney problems (which ultimately resulted in a kidney transplant) began that fall, and Riley's dream team never really materialized. Jones played well for five seasons, but the Heat never got anywhere near the Finals.
Now, Jones is back, on a team that's defending its championship.
"It's a great opportunity for us," Mourning said of Jones. "He just adds another dimension to what we have here. I know that he's going to give us some productive minutes. . . . It's great for us to be able to go to the bench that deep and get that kind of production."
Last year brought a first NBA championship for several of Miami's veterans, including Mourning, Gary Payton and Antoine Walker, as the team rallied behind Dwyane Wade and Riley's "15 Strong" motto. Jones is now the only veteran on the team without hardware, and his presence provides an extra source of motivation for a team also looking to defend its championship.
"He's known for his defense, and he's been a great teammate this year," O'Neal said. "We want to get it done for him, and for Pat, for [Payton, who is expected to retire after this season], for Zo, for everybody."
Jones was supposed to come off the bench and back up Wade. But after Wade separated his shoulder in late February and missed 23 games, Jones became a starter again, and he's stayed there even after Wade's return. Jones played small forward in Game 1 and helped hold Chicago's scoring guard Ben Gordon to 7-of-19 shooting.
The Heat didn't win, but Jones was happy to be on the floor for a playoff game again.
"I'm thrilled," Jones said. "I know this team has [another title run] in them. I'm sure it's going to come out real soon."