By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com
SAN ANTONIO – The Miami Heat’s main characters had taken their spots for media day at AT&T Center on the eve of the NBA Finals. Stars LeBron James and Dwyane Wade entertained in the interview room. Chris Bosh, Ray Allen, Mario Chalmers and other key cogs answered questions from behind podiums spaced around the perimeter of the floor.
Then there were the others, plopped down in the front row of seats along the corner of the court, just outside the sphere of the media’s interest. It was a fitting foursome: Greg Oden then Chris “Birdman” Andersen then Rashard Lewis then Michael Beasley. All four had signed with Miami within the last two seasons, eager to join LeBron and D-Wade for a championship ride, but also to seek a resurrection of sorts for careers that veered in different directions for differing reasons.
Only Beasley, the troubled, 25-year-old forward, sought something deeper: Salvation.
“I’ve seen him grow immensely, maturity‑wise, as a pro, on and off the court,” said Erik Spoelstra, the Heat’s rookie coach in 2008 when they drafted the 19-year-old Beasley No. 2 overall. “It’s really been ‑‑ it’s been cool to see.”
Even so, if judging solely by how Spoelstra has used him, it’s fair to wonder if Beasley, his disappointing career already dwindling by a thread, has failed in his pursuit. Some may have even forgotten he plays for the Heat. Few players are perceived so negatively by fans and media alike, with much of the scrutiny coming by way of his own missteps; a self-destructive path of poor decisions off the court and a sliding, seemingly increasingly lazy effort on it through his first five seasons spent with three teams.
Yet despite never realizing a rotation niche this season, and being inactive more often than not during the postseason, Beasley is adamant that this second stint with Miami has served as a vessel for personal growth.
“I’ve learned a lot, not just from LeBron and Dwyane, but from Rashard, Udonis [Haslem], Birdman and Ray, a team full of veterans, a team full of future Hall of Famers,” Beasley told NBA.com from his front-row seat little more than a week ago. “Definitely a great move for my career, more on the mental side of things. I’ve learned a lot: How to do things the right way, how to have fun the right way, not to sweat the small stuff.
“I’ve worked. The thing I’ve learned above all else is how to win, what it takes to win, the attitude and dedication to work. You get tired, but once you get used to it, it’s like your body needs it.”
Those are words that might pique the interest of skeptical general managers as Beasley becomes an unrestricted free agent next month. Last summer, after an underwhelming first season in Phoenix, the Suns bought him out of his remaining two years and $12 million as legal issues swirled around him. It followed a flame-out with Minnesota, the team Miami traded him to for a couple of second-round picks two seasons after drafting him one spot behind Chicago’s Derrick Rose and ahead of Russell Westbrook and Kevin Love.
After the Suns cut ties, Beasley signed a one-year, veteran’s minimum contract with the two-time champion Heat, a team with established leaders and where Beasley believed he would be afforded the chance to reset his career, and his life, while removed from the daily pressures of the spotlight.
“Who doesn’t have a past? Who doesn’t have skeletons?” Beasley said. “It’s just my skeletons are in the open, not in the closet. So have I been unfairly portrayed? I can say yes, I can say no. Did I bring it on myself? Most definitely. But it’s the growing process in life, maturing, a grown boy turning into a young man.”
Beasley has yet to be active in The Finals and has been inactive in 10 of Miami’s 19 playoff games. He’s played a total of seven minutes in three games. During the regular season, he appeared in a career-low 55 games and averaged career-lows in points (7.9), rebounds (3.1) and minutes (15.1).
Yet, Beasley said: “Honestly, this season has flown by faster than any other I’ve been in. I don’t know why, I don’t know how. I guess time really does fly when you’re having fun.”
The Heat had no fun in Games 3 and 4 in Miami and now head back to San Antonio for Sunday’s Game 5 in the unenviable position of trailing 3-1. After Game 4, Spoelstra was asked if Beasley could be an option in Game 5 to provide some much-needed scoring punch. While his playing time was sporadic, Beasley did record a career-high shooting percentage of 49.9 percent and 38.9 percent from beyond the arc, a better mark than only his rookie season.
Spoelstra didn’t give a direct answer, and in an indication as to how Beasley is still perceived, the questioner was roasted on Twitter by fans and also media covering The Finals for having even broached the subject.
“I shouldn’t say no. I do, but I’m not going to stress over it,” Beasley said when asked if he cares more now how others view him. “People who know me, my family, my kids, my closest friends, they know me. I’m not trying to get everybody to know that I’m a good guy, a great guy or whatever. At this point I’m just focused on playing basketball.”
Beasley has worked closely with Heat assistant coach Juwan Howard. Unlike past seasons, Beasley is said to arrive early for practice and stays late, cues he said he immediately gleaned from the team’s veterans. He is said to listen intently to coaches and teammates, and he hasn’t uttered a peep about being limited to an end-of-bench role.
He even pays more attention to nutrition when in the past a pregame meal of chicken strips and french fries from the concession stand would do.
“Everything that we’ve discussed privately, everything that we’ve been working on individually and also with other coaches, he’s been grasping it, and he’s been enjoying it and working hard at it,” Howard said. “That right there, that’s how I judge Michael.”
After he signed with the Heat, Beasley hired a new agent. Beasley said he is solely focused on finishing out this season and declined to answer if he’d be willing to sign a deal similar to his current one to remain with the Heat. His agent, Jared Karnes, said there have been no discussions yet with Miami president Pat Riley.
Beasley did make one declarative statement: He will be sticking around in the NBA.
“Definitely,” Beasley said. “There’s still some immaturity about me, but that’s what keeps it light. I’m a goofy, fun-loving guy, I like to think so myself anyway. But you’re definitely going to see a different me.”
It’s up to Beasley to make believers.