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Michael Beasley keeps his head in the game

1/7/2014



MIAMI – Michael Beasley’s reunion with the Miami Heat came with no guarantees.

No guaranteed contract.

No guaranteed role or playing time.

Not even a guarantee he’d get the jersey number he coveted.

But after making good on enough of his potential and making enough progress to be trusted in a valuable reserve role through the first 34 games of the season, Beasley appears on the verge of being able to make deposits of Heat checks into his bank account for the remainder of the season.

Even though the Heat don’t want Beasley to ever feel comfortable with his status on the team, the versatile and once-troubled forward has done enough to warrant a season-long commitment from Miami. That’s why it should be a formality that Beasley’s league-minimum, $1 million salary is set in stone when the NBA’s deadline to guarantee contracts for the season arrives at 5 p.m. ET Tuesday.

The reality is that Beasley has outperformed his contract already this season. He’s stayed in line and avoided, at least so far, some of the knucklehead moments on and off the court that helped line his path out of Miami during his first stint with the Heat as the No. 2 overall pick of the 2008 draft.

He’s earned his keep. And it’s become obvious the Heat -- even with LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh on course for another historic season of production -- are better off with Beasley than without him. So they should keep him. Especially for the bargain price he’s paid.

Still, Beasley isn’t counting on anything -- regardless of his contract status heading into Tuesday night’s game against the New Orleans Pelicans.

“I still take it day by day, because a lot can happen between now and Tuesday [night],” Beasley said after he scored 17 points off the bench in Sunday’s 102-97 win against Toronto. “I’m still working hard. I’m not going to work any less, come Tuesday. If I make it to Tuesday, I’ve got (a chance) to make it to the end of June [in the NBA Finals] with this team.”

Beasley has shown promise at times this season as a reliable scoring option on a second unit alongside Ray Allen, Norris Cole, Chris Andersen and Rashard Lewis. But he would make for an awful poker player. Although Beasley has insisted he’s not anxious about Tuesday’s deadline or his role moving forward with the Heat, his body language, nervous twitching and facial expression told a different story.

His production this season speaks for itself, with Beasley averaging 11.1 points and 4.4 rebounds while shooting a career-high 53.1 percent from the field this season. He’s the lone player other than James, Wade and Bosh to average double-figures in scoring heading into Tuesday.

But Beasley’s progress is gauged far more by his defensive development, an area of his game that has been a weakness since he entered the league. That’s why the tutelage he receives from the coaching staff and several veteran teammates is a never-ending process. One recent session continued well into the night when Bosh quietly pulled Beasley aside in the Heat’s locker room an hour after Sunday’s game to reinforce some defensive assignment principles the younger forward struggled with on the court.

“I told him he’ll figure it out once the season is over with,” Bosh said of routine sessions with Beasley. “He’s going to get it. It’s not easy being in his position. It’s like having to learn how to play basketball all over again. When it’s all said and done, we’re going to need him, his versatility and his ability to score.”

It was essentially a given within the locker room that Beasley is expected to be around for the stretch run of the season as the Heat try to win a third consecutive championship. Heat coach Erik Spoelstra has also pointed out the boost Roger Mason Jr., who is also on a non-guaranteed contract, has provided.

But the Heat, under president Pat Riley, have always operated as franchise that values roster flexibility and tends to leave a spot available for a potentially key addition. They could be among the teams that draw interest from center Andrew Bynum, who was traded by Cleveland to Chicago on Monday night and is expected to be released by the Bulls on Tuesday. Bynum would then officially become a free agent later this week.

Such a scenario is one of those examples of “things I can’t control,” Beasley said. What falls within Beasley’s control is his approach to work each day and making the most of his opportunities.

“I like how he’s been progressing,” Spoelstra said of Beasley. “He’s been giving us solid minutes. We built up a very structured routine for him every single day, of learning what we do and fast-tracking what this group has been doing the past three-plus years. He has embraced that fully and whole-heartedly, so you’re seeing the residual of all that hard work. He’s typically the first to be here (for practice) and oftentimes one of the last ones to leave.”

One of the surest signs of that progress and professional maturity is how Beasley is now his own toughest critic. His tendency to be self-deprecating makes him difficult subject for media interviews. Ask him about the offensive spark he provided in a particular game, and he answers about a defensive lapse he wishes he could have back.

Talk to Beasley about his emerging role on the team, and he’ll change the subject to how he’s lucky to still be with the team this long amid his “subpar play” so far this season.

“I’m not really worried about how far I came or how far I’ve come along,” Beasley said. “I’m really trying to worry about the now, trying to stay in the moment. I don’t listen to the praise. I don’t listen to the bad remarks. I don’t listen to the good. I play ball. I definitely listen to my teammates and coaches. Just play hard and get better every day. You’ve got to, especially on an unguaranteed contract.”

Wade trusts the growth he’s seen in Beasley.

“He has come into a team full of guys that he respects, that he enjoys being around, that he enjoys listening to,” Wade said. “It can be hard for him sometimes because, as a young guy on the team, older veteran guys are always telling you what to do. There are maybe nine different people [in Beasley’s ear], but he’s handling it very well. It’s a good change this time around.”

Beasley appreciates the sentiment, but he’s conditioned himself to quickly brush it aside.

“I don’t want to get too comfortable,” Beasley said, “because we know where that got me.”

It got Beasley into a predicament where there are precious few guarantees.

At some point Tuesday, his contract this season should no longer be among them.