DALLAS – As Michael Beasley slammed a chicken tenders basket at his locker about 90 minutes before his Phoenix Suns were to face the Dallas Mavericks on Sunday, he seemed more pleased with the savory french fries than digging up the past yet again.
“These fries are good, man,” Beasley said between shoveling handfuls of the greasy goodness into his mouth.
Beasley’s first season with the Phoenix Suns, one promising a fresh start on what some might hail as an overly generous three-year, $18 million contract considering his past work history, has not been so tasty for Suns fans to digest.
The former No. 2 pick has been bad, so bad that halfway through the first half of the season he lost his starting job on what is now the worst team in the Western Conference. The saving grace at this point for the Suns and their leery fans would seem to be that the final $6.25 million on Beasley’s third season, in 2014-15, is non-guaranteed.
But Beasley, sounding as honest as when he critiqued those fries, said he wants to be the guy who helps turn this once-proud franchise that rose to great heights on the sturdy, trustworthy and fan-friendly shoulders of Steve Nash.
“That’s the plan,” said Beasley, who turned 24 earlier this month and remains a 6-foot-10, 235-pound and heavily tattooed enigma. “Hey, I definitely want the fans to support me and understand me, but I realize with my past, it’s a long shot.”
On Jan. 2, just two months into the season and three weeks after veteran NBA writer Shaun Powell tweeted that a Suns source deemed Beasley “toxic,” a headline in the USA Today screamed: “Michael Beasley has bottomed out in Phoenix.”
Already? Was it true?
“Tomato, to-mah-to, I guess,” Beasley said. “It really don’t matter. Only thing you can do is look forward to the future. I realize what I’m doing — career-low in every category. But it’s time to, like I said, I’m going to go hard. I feel like if I play hard, I have great games, not even great games, good games. I haven’t had a good game yet, haven’t had a great game in a while. If I play hard I have good games, we win most of the time.”
Interim Suns coach Lindsey Hunter, who served as director of player development before being promoted in the wake of Alvin Gentry‘s recent firing, said he worked closely in his previous post with Beasley and earned a mutual trust, yet he’s at a loss to explain the player’s early missteps when this was supposed to be a fresh start, a clean slate.
Yet, through Hunter’s words comes the depth of the task at hand to transform this young, often troubled player who has no practical foundation of discipline or even organization to build upon, into a cornerstone of a franchise, or at the least, a reliable teammate.
“He’s still growing. He has a lot of room to grow and I think he’s willing to do that. And we’re challenging him,” Hunter said. “He’s been on a couple of different teams and people have given up on him. We feel like if we give you all the tools you need to get yourself together than we’re giving you a great opportunity and you should take advantage of it. And he has.
“He’s wanting to change, wanting to get himself together, get himself, like, have a schedule for himself,” Hunter continued. “Those are things we take for granted, but Mike has probably never done that in his life. And so once we get him to understanding that, hey, put all this together and basketball will be easy, then he’ll be great.”
That day seems far away as the Suns’ front office is faced with no easy answers.
Beasley, as he attests, is averaging career lows across the board: 10.0 ppg, 3.8 rpg, 21.5 mpg and a 39.3 field-goal percentage. After rifling through the chicken finger basket and dressing for the game while rapping out loud the inaudible lyrics streaming through his headphones, Beasley managed 12 points on 4-for-10 shooting and four rebounds. He recorded a team-worst minus-17 in 20 minutes and the Suns lost for the 30th time in 45 games.
Beasley’s game was particularly disappointing coming off the previous night’s 25-point effort as the Suns went toe-to-toe with the Spurs in San Antonio before wilting late. In fact, in the previous six games, Beasley produced some of his best-scoring games of the season such as scoring 20 points in a win at Chicago after having gone five consecutive games with two points or less, and then 19 points in another rare road win at Sacramento.
Ever since his one season at Kansas State, nothing is certain with Beasley. Will he change? Is it possible? Only Beasley can really know if it is.
“It’s life. My past is my past and mine’s not pretty. Nobody has a pretty past,” Beasley said. “Everybody in the world did things they regret, are not proud of. I get that a lot from a lot of different people saying, ‘Man, in my 20s, you’ve got a long way to go to mess up as bad as I did.’ I say that because we all have pasts, every single one of us. Nobody’s perfect.
“We all have things we’re not that proud of, things we wish we could take back. The great ones learn from them and that’s what I did, I learned from my mistakes. The lunatics just make the same mistakes.”
By the final year of his deal, and for their sake hopefully sooner, the Suns will for sure know which one they’re dealing with.