“I wish my kids would grow up and have his (Michael Beasley) character. He cares about winning and nothing else. He wants to be the best so he works at it but he doesn’t go around thinking he’s the best. You could go around and ask anyone he’s been a student of, coached by, or played with, and you won’t find one person who has a negative thing to say about Michael Beasley. The stuff that he’s done is nothing more than a young teenager looking for attention. He’s a simple kid who enjoys being a kid.” (Frank Martin, Kansas State Coach in an interview with Bulls.com in 2008)
When Michael Beasley declared himself eligible for the NBA Draft in 2008 it was hardly a surprise that the dynamic scorer and rebounder would leave school so soon after his freshman year. His NBA future drew parallels. Some envisioned him as a smaller Amare Stoudemire, an explosive scorer and rebounder. Others thought Beasley would have a career similar to Antawn Jamison. And yet here we are six years later and Michael Beasley is neither Stoudemire who was Rookie of the Year nor Jamison, a multiple All-Star. Six years later Michael Beasley is still figuring out who Michel Beasley is.
Before the draft Michael Beasley was asked about his maturity. It was a criticism that latched onto Beasley all of his basketball life. He told Draft Express, “I don’t know how mature you want me to be. I don’t know if you want me to act 25, 30 or 40. I’m 19. I’m a kid. I’m going to live my life. I’m going to mess up.”
That was a warning very few paid attention to and those that did had no mercy for him. Pat Riley drafted Beasley with the #2 pick just behind Derrick Rose. He envisioned Michael Beasley as an undersized power forward with athletic ability to score on the inside. But Beasley was a terrible inside scorer, he didn’t use his athleticism around the rim, he didn’t finish through contact. He preferred pull up jumpers. His rebounding habits at Kansas State simply disappeared. In a nutshell, the Michael Beasley on the court for the Miami Heat was a Michael Beasley the Miami Heat never would have drafted.
Pat Riley not known for his mistakes made a glaring error. He could have drafted another freshman, Kevin Love. Love had been exposed to the NBA world through his father Stan Love, a former player. Love had maturity and insight for someone his age while Michael Beasley had second chances. Lots of them.
He attended six different high schools. There were three in Maryland: Bowie High School, National Christian Academy and Riverdale Baptist School. There was Notre Dame Prep in Massachusetts. There was the Pendleton School in Florida. There was Oak Hill Academy in Virginia.
In the NBA Michael Beasley has been on four teams: the Miami Heat (twice), the Minnesota Timberwolves, the Phoenix Suns. Michael Beasley is used to starting over, to packing his bags, to trying some place new with the expectation things will be different. Except for this one glaring detail. Is Michael Beasley, the human being, any different?
His second year with the Miami Heat Michael Beasley was a starter and averaged 15 points and 6 rebounds. But he wilted in the first round of the playoffs against the Boston Celtics. He was unable to manage his game with all of the pressure. That summer he was traded to the Minnesota Timberwolves for cap space so the Heat could make room for Chris Bosh and Lebron James.
The trade to Minnesota was the best thing that happened in Beasley’s career, at least that first year. Away from the discipline of Riley and the lens of the Miami Heat, in cavernous cold Minnesota, Beasley averaged a career high 19 points a game and looked like the #2 pick in the draft. But the next year he averaged 12 points a game which reinforced the idea that Beasley would be a player you could never count on. His best skill was his inconsistency.
“I like to have fun”, Beasley said as a way to answer the lingering question: what is wrong with Michael Beasley? Trouble began early in his NBA career, starting with the Rookie Transition Program when a fire alarm went off in the room of Mario Chalmers and Darrell Arthur. Upon further inspection by police, the room smelled of marijuana. Chalmers and Arthur were told to go home and were fined $20,000. But slipping out the door before the police arrived was Michael Beasley. Later, Pat Riley forced Beasley to confess and he was fined $50,000 dollars before he played a single NBA game.
The summer after his rookie year Beasley entered a rehab facility in Houston for stress related issues. Two years later, in Minnesota, he was pulled over by police and they smelled marijuana in the car. Beneath his seat they found a bag of it. Two years later when Beasley was a member of the Phoenix Suns he was stopped again by police and arrested after they confiscated marijuana.
If you follow the math, Michael Beasley finds a way to self destruct every two years which means something is bound to happen in 2015.
Michael Beasley is a cautionary tale: the college player who never matured enough to fulfill his potential. His career has been disappointing only because his talent is extraordinary. But his vulnerability and insecurities and lack of accountability have derailed whatever raw gifts he possesses. He hasn’t been able to put it together, to develop the discipline of a dominant player even though he has the ability to be an All-Star. But potential guarantees nothing.
There are some players who are high draft picks because it is just a weak talent pool that year. Kwame Brown comes to mind. And then there is Michael Beasley. He admits it all came too soon for him, too fast and that he was “dirt poor” so the decision to leave college was a choice taken away from his by his socioeconomic circumstances. Entering the NBA before he was psychologically ready for the pressure and anxiety and demands have reshaped the career Michael Beasley was supposed to have and turned it into the career Michael Beasley is trying to save.
As of yet he is without a team which is illogical. The Pacers without Paul George are desperate for anyone who can score but you get the sense that Beasley is nowhere on their radar. The Lakers are interested and if Beasley has no other options he’ll accept their minimum salary offer.
Lebron James, who adores all of his teammates, ran out of patience with Beasley’s lack of focus last year. The fact that Michael Beasley had no role in the NBA Finals even when the Heat needed a second perimeter scorer once Wade’s knee stopped working was telling. Once again the Heat were going to punish Beasley for what he didn’t do in practice, for who he wasn’t with his teammates, for how much he had not changed.
It’s not hard to rebuild an image but it is not easy either. What it takes is a consistent and sustained effort to change, to want it so badly you sacrifice everything. Is that where Michael Beasley is in his career? Perhaps not. But it is where he needs to be or else he’ll drift in and out of the league for a few more years and then that will be that. He will be a forgettable story: the gifted college player who couldn’t make it in the NBA because he didn’t have discipline and he succumbed to the pressure and he could never mature.
Growth is painful. Change is painful. But nothing is as painful as staying stuck somewhere you don’t belong. Mandy Hale did not know Michael Beasley when she wrote those words but she was talking about him just the same.