By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com
HANG TIME SOUTHWEST — The Heat have seen enough, again. The Lakers granted him a pair of workouts without apparently feeling the need to draw up any paperwork, at least not yet. Now, less than two weeks until training camps open, the San Antonio Spurs, of all teams, will reportedly kick the tires on Michael Beasley.
This is not an over-the-hill vet looking to make it one more season. This is not a medical redshirt who sadly can no longer get up and down. This is a 25-year-old gifted talent who should be enjoying the prime of his professional career. Unfortunately, immaturity derailed it long ago. The former No. 2 overall pick is just trying to stay in the game.
Beasley’s return to Miami last season seemed to be the best landing spot for him, where he could work out of the limelight to build himself up and be mentored by hard-working championship players and coaches. It obviously didn’t go as hoped. Beasley earned early playing time, showed some promise — actually shot it pretty well — but mostly found himself riding the pine. He was an afterthought throughout the playoffs until a desperate Erik Spoelstra down 3-1 to the mighty Spurs reached for Beasley in Game 5 of the NBA Finals.
During the Finals I asked Chris Bosh what he made of Beasley’s approach throughout the season and why he thought Beasley wasn’t able to carve out a niche. His answer was disappointing in that it suggested Beasley didn’t put forth, or didn’t understand how to put forth, a full effort to earn those minutes.
“I’ve always been on Beas as far as being a two-way player,” Bosh said. “He needs to play defense and offense. It’s something you’re really not taught early on in your career. But I think for him, just with his athleticism and strength, he can be a phenomenal two-way player. He’s grown quite a bit and he can use all these lessons he’s gathering to really help him in the future.”
Hopefully the 6-foot-9, 235-pound power forward has a future in the league. I don’t hold any real affinity for the player, but I’m continually pulled in by his story of hardship, missteps and a perceived — mine, anyway — ambivalence toward changing his behavior.
He’s had multiple run-ins with the law for marijuana possession, various driving violations (which one stop included possession of a loaded gun) and in May 2013, toward the end of his one tumultuous season with the Phoenix Suns, police investigated an alleged sexual assault. With the Suns, ambivalence so defined his effort on the floor that he was flat-out benched.
Yet even when I spoke to Beasley at the start of the Finals, it was difficult to determine if he fully grasped how close his career was, and is, to plunging off the cliff into basketball oblivion. He did talk about how much he had learned during the season about work ethic, maturity and mental approach on the court and how to live a better life off it from veteran teammates like James and Bosh and Rashard Lewis, and from coaches who worked closely with him like Juwan Howard.
“You have to be men, we’re all men, we’re family men, we have kids and wives and we try to be responsible citizens off the court,” Bosh said. “I think that example, because of who we are, he listens to us and really takes in what we have to say.”
So much cringe-worthy behavior within the sports world has bombarded us in recent months and days that a feel-good story, a story of redemption would be welcomed. The question isn’t whether Beasley has the talent to stick in this league, but rather if he possesses the initiative. He wasn’t mature enough to handle a leading role in Minnesota or Phoenix. He couldn’t carve out a niche as a role player with the Heat.
It takes a lot for a talented, young athlete to exhaust all opportunity. Yet Beasley has reached that point. We’ll see if the Spurs or any other team gives him one more shot, and maybe, just maybe it turns out to be the last one he’ll ever need.
“I think for him to see how a locker room is supposed to be, how winning basketball is supposed to be, I think that’s helped him as far as his mental is concerned to really know how to approach the game,” Bosh said back in June. “I think he’s really come a long way since he’s been here.”
When I left him in San Antonio, Beasley said he believed he matured in his lone season back with the Heat, and that he was certain he would be on an NBA roster this season.
“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 still up to Beasley to make believers. It would be nice to believe.