Out Here Grindin’

Miami wasn’t the right situation for Michael Beasley. He felt more pressure there, being Dwyane Wade’s sidekick, than he does now, as part of a one-two punch alongside Kevin Love in Minnesota. I could tell this when I interviewed him for a feature in March. Incidentally, it came smack in the middle of the worst strech of games of his career—both on the court and in the media. The uncertainty in his voice was startling, and I felt for dude.

B-Easy is now getting a chance to be what he logistically couldn’t be in Miami and, according to many, never would be, anywhere: a franchise player. Since landing in ‘Sota, Mike’s gotten a fresh start. New city. New team. New hair. New role. And that role is one of a leader. In September, he said the T-Wolves were the team to beat. Earlier this month, he said they were the worst team in the L. Those are both moves indicative of someone who plans on leading and being a go-to guy. He’s started to back it up on the court, too. Over their last five, the Wolves have gone 3-2 (and the losses are by a combined nine points), with Beasley putting up 32.6 points and 6.2 boards per, to go along with a game-winner last night.

We’ve never given up on Beas and, while we’re not saying he’s an All-Star yet, let’s just say we’re not all too surprised with the recent outbursts.

Soon, the bandwagon will be full, but you can try to run behind it.

by Adam Fleischer / @AdamXXL

Standing in the empty AmericanAirlines Arena a mere 16 hours after scoring just 1 point in a loss 235 miles north in Orlando, Michael Beasley won’t let the ball stray more than a tattooed arm’s length from his body. As we talk underneath the basket adjacent to the Heat home bench, he repeatedly flicks his wrist from two feet out, making most shots off the glass while swishing others. The lone member of the Heat organization at the photo shoot encourages Beasley to roll the ball his way so that I have his full attention during our back and forth. Beas has other plans.beasleyfeat-1

“I’m gonna hold it. I’m gonna hold it. I swear,” he pleads.

The media relations figure says he wants his young star to focus, though.

“I’m focused! I swear,” he comes back, with a smile in his voice.

And he is.

Still, you can’t fault the Heat employee for his interaction with Beasley. Not only is he simply doing his job, but it seems like Beasley’s focus overall has been wavering of late.

In addition to his 1-point, 1-rebound showing in the loss to the Magic, Beas put up only slightly more respectable 10 and 7, 14 and 9, and 12 and 3 stat lines over the last three games. What’s worse, though, is that all four were Heat losses and, with the exception of the previous night’s surrender to the Magic, all were battles fought without Dwyane Wade. A reason to feel not as bad about your team losing, since its superstar was missing? Maybe. An opportunity for Michael Beasley to step up and carry the load in that superstar’s absence? Definitely.

When Wade first went down with a tweaked ankle that would eventually cause him to miss five games, it seemed the emergence of Beasley was exactly what was going to happen. Looking more Kevin Durant than Hasheem Thabeet as the meat of the last three years’ Second Overall Pick Sandwich, Beasley began mourning the loss of his star teammate by posting 23 and 11, followed by a career high 30 and 8—both Miami wins.
This has been the tale much of Mike’s season and young career. Flashes of brilliance. Houdini-esque disappearances. Repeat. He knows this. “Consistency,” he says of the biggest challenge he’s faced through his first two years in the League. “Doing it night in and night out; you know, 82 games—that’s a long time.”

In some ways, the NBA season is so long that it leaves room for error. It gives the youthful DC-area native chances to roll again when the chips are down. But that doesn’t necessarily make these recent struggles any easier to stomach. “Ahh,” he sighs, trying to swallow the recent string of individual and collective bumps and bruises. “You just gotta, you gotta push. Push through it, man. Last couple games—we on a four-game losing streak—and me particularly, I’ve been playing terrible. You just gotta stay with what you do. I’m coming [back] here later today to get some shots, just to find the rim and find my rhythm and get back on track with what we need. We trying to be a Playoff team, we trying to go deep into the Playoffs, so just keep doing what we doing and working hard.”

Of course Beasley has been working hard throughout his career. No matter how talented you are, no one can earn the respect and accolades he has—top ranked in your deep high school class, Big 12 Player and Freshman of the Year as well as AP First-Team All-American, picked second overall and named to the All-Rookie team, just to name a few—without buckling down. That doesn’t mean this is what everyone wants to believe. Like Melo, the aptly nicknamed B-Easy makes what he does on the court (the offensive end, at least) seem smooth—to look, well, easy. Some confuse what they see with a lack of passion and desire. And like the nascent years of his fellow DMV product’s career, Beasley’s first couple of seasons have brought critics to surface.

59770182“I don’t listen to ’em. Most great players went through tough times early on in their career,” the 21-year-old forward says poignantly. “Kobe Bryant, first couple years [he] didn’t really play a whole lot, and look at him now. Jermaine O’Neal, same situation. I’m just taking it day by day, learning from the vets, learning from experience, and I’m gonna keep working hard.”

Sure, hard work is all swell and dandy. But when the production isn’t there, it isn’t enough to satisfy fans and media hungry for wins. And because he’s so talented, people expect so much, so soon from Michael. Too much, too soon. Maybe.

Even the highest performing college players—and Beasley’s ’07-08 campaign at Kansas State was one of the best in recent memory—are tagged with that word. It’s that word LeBron instantly left in the rearview mirror, and the same word that probably still haunts Lenny Cooke and Gerald Green to this day. Potential. No matter if you’ve proven yourself at every level. Until you’ve reached your ceiling at the highest level, that word will follow you around. B-Easy knows this, and he understands why.

Have you started to reach your poten…

“Not right now, honestly,” he retorts before the final word of the question is fully off my tongue. “Not right now. I feel like I can do so much more for my team and just in general. I just feel like I’m coming up short.” It’s easy to tell he’s toiling with the fact that he’s not steadily performing at the level at which he knows he can, especially during this last stretch of losses. “It’s not a bad thing. I’m learning. I’m getting better every night. But I feel like I got a lot more to offer and,” he pauses, “only time will tell.”

“I don’t think Mike’s even scratched his potential yet,” concurs new Knick and Beasley’s former K-State teammate Bill Walker. “As soon as he does, it’s gonna be…” he smiles and shakes his head as memories of practices and games in the other Manhattan cross his mind, “it’s gonna be trouble. He pretty much can do it all. When he gets his feet right, he gets comfortable, you’ll see.”

Flash-forward a week for a glimpse. We’re still in Miami, we’re still at the AmericanAirlines Arena, only this time, the stands are slightly more packed and the court is full of NBA players. The Hawks are in Miami to cap off the Heat’s three-game homestand, during which DWade has carried his squad to victories over the Warriors and Lakers as the team claws its way toward the Playoffs. An upswing for coach Erik Spoelstra’s group, no doubt, but more of the same for Beas, who has played a combined 43 minutes in the two wins and hasn’t been on the floor in the fourth quarter for four straight games.

With the team down 77-76 heading into the fourth, and Beasley with only 8 points to show for his 20-some odd minutes, it looks like this will again be a night when the freshly ’rowed Lottery pick watches from the side as the All-Star MVP carries the 11-ton load. But it’s all about opportunity. And, instead, Beas is getting his again. Scoring all but 10 of the Heat’s 24 fourth-quarter points, including 7 straight with under two minutes to go to spring Miami from a deficit to holding the lead for good, Michael Beasley has again reminded the world why scouts and onlookers have salivated over his game for years.

After the game, Wade, who at one point got in his young sidekick’s face during a timeout, admitted he may have been a bit aggressive, even if it did end up helping trigger Beasley’s big quarter. “I just felt, as a leader, I had to get in his face a little bit,” said Flash. “I didn’t mean to hit him in the chest. He came back and was the reason we won the game. I’m very proud of him—probably the most proud I’ve been of him.”

Those words must have meant a lot to the young cat, especially coming from someone whom he admits is one of the handful of people he turns to for advice during tough times. And there’s no overlooking that Beas has been through a number of those—often well publicized. From sub-par play of late, to his name being in trade rumors in February, to a summer marked by uncertainty and a short stay in rehab, Mike’s last year or so has been somewhat of a whirlwind.

Back in the empty arena, the trade rumors come up. “It didn’t make me feel no way,” he says, hardened. “Nobody wants to get traded, but if it happened, you go to the next city and play hard. I love Miami. I love the city, love the organization, the team, players, coaches. They teach you a whole lot more than just the game.”

That last part seems to really mean something to him. As someone grappling with the spotlight and pressures of stardom, it’s a constant learning process on and off the court. I ask what he learned during a summer when his name was in the news for reasons other than his play. He puts up three shots and dribbles six times during a 20-second period otherwise filled with silence following the question. With only the two of us around, and approaching a subject he surely isn’t all that inclined to delve into, this feels like an eternity.

“Can’t take this for granted.” He spews a cliché, but not for cliché’s sake. He finally picks up the ball and holds on to it momentarily. “You live a good life, make good money doing what you love to do, but it could all be taken away from you like that.”

Again, the ball is in close to Beasley’s body. He can’t, and won’t, let it go.