Commentary

Back to the start for Michael Beasley

Originally Published: April 9, 2013
By Michael Wallace | ESPN.com

MIAMI -- The nickname is still B-Easy.

Yet, it would be absolutely foolish to believe this is going to be a smooth and seamless return to the Miami Heat for troubled yet still-talented forward Michael Beasley.

Having barely taken three steps onto the AmericanAirlines Arena floor for the Heat's media day earlier this week, Beasley had to retreat a bit as he braced for his new reality.

The familiarity had to be bittersweet.

The No. 2 overall pick in the 2008 draft, Beasley was back on the same floor he called home for his first two NBA seasons.

But he was also back facing the same line of questions about his immaturity, inconsistency and involvement in alleged illegal activities -- from marijuana use to a recent sexual assault probe -- that threaten to derail his career.

How Beasley has stumbled back to this point, back to Miami on a one-year nonguaranteed contract and seemingly facing his final real shot at redemption, isn't as important as whether he truly understands where he stands.

"I'm coming in here with an open mind," Beasley said. "I'm here knowing that this team doesn't need me. I just want to show them that I can help. I just want them to want me."

More important, it's totally on Beasley now to prove that he can tweak his game, adjust his score-first mentality, accept any role given, mature on and off the court and show that the Heat could actually find use for him.

That process began in earnest the past few days in the Bahamas, where Beasley survived -- if not necessarily thrived -- during the first week of Miami's training camp. And just as when he first entered the lower bowl of the arena at Monday's media day, this methodical, step-by-step process for Beasley continues when he returns to that same court Sunday for the Heat's open scrimmage.

Of course, barring any setback between now and then. With Beasley, such disclaimers can't be taken for granted. Every key member of the Heat's power structure, from owner Micky Arison and president Pat Riley to roster mainstays Dwyane Wade and Udonis Haslem, have embraced Beasley's return and are hopeful this turns out to be an extended stay and not a prospect aimlessly passing through.

[+] EnlargeHeat
Issac Baldizon/NBAE/Getty ImagesMichael Beasley will reunite with Dwyane Wade and will also get the opportunity to play alongside reigning MVP LeBron James.

But Beasley remains an enigma. And there's still enough of a stigma attached to his reputation that even his staunchest supporters are cautiously taking a wait-and-see approach.

"He doesn't have to worry about having to perform to what people expect," said Heat coach Erik Spoelstra, who met with Beasley for more than an hour before the team signed him last month.

"In terms of expectations, this team is only about 'how can you help us win.' We'll see how he fits in. And we don't know that answer right now. There are some open spots. He's excited about that. But in terms of having him slotted in specifically anywhere right now, no. I'm curious to see how it works out."

What's clear is that the dynamics of this team have changed drastically since Beasley was traded in the summer of 2010 to Minnesota for only a second-round draft pick. Riley's shrewd move created the salary-cap space to bring together Wade, Haslem, LeBron James, Chris Bosh and Mike Miller in one of the biggest free-agency overhauls in NBA history.

The Heat are far from the struggling team that was coming off a franchise-worst 15-win season in 2007-08, lost out on Derrick Rose in the lottery and picked Beasley ahead of Kevin Love, Russell Westbrook and Roy Hibbert.

When the Heat first took in Beasley, they were desperate.

They're now a fledgling dynasty pursuing a third straight championship. And Beasley returns as a low-risk reclamation project who must scratch to find a rotation role alongside established, trusted veteran forwards like Haslem, Shane Battier and Rashard Lewis.

A bit of the 2008 lighthearted Beasley came out when he joked that he couldn't bring himself to watch the Heat during any of their last three runs to the NBA Finals.

"You know that's a lie," Beasley cracked before instantly shifting into a more somber, serious tone. "You get hungry. Especially when you see your old team get there three times in a row -- all three years you weren't here. You get mad. But you channel that anger. You put it into basketball. And that's what I'm looking forward to doing."

Wade loves the way Beasley has carried himself in the early stages of this reunion.

Again, it's early. There's still plenty Beasley has to prove.

Steady progress will be met with patience.

"He's comes back and we're in a different place, so it's going to take Mike a little time to get comfortable with the guys, comfortable understanding his role and what we need," Wade said. "Hopefully, he'll look at this opportunity and really smile on the inside and understand this is a great opportunity for him to not worry about being a No. 2 pick. And just focus on being a hell of a player in his role."

That role has yet to be defined. But if this works out, the Heat could get a decent boost off the bench from a versatile 6-foot-8 scorer with 3-point range, who can create his own shot off the dribble, who had his most productive seasons in Miami and who has career averages of 14.1 points and 5.2 rebounds over five seasons.

Beasley has also had problems getting out of his own way. His efficiency has dipped each of the past three seasons and he was essentially forced out of Minnesota and Phoenix -- two bad teams that felt they were much better off without him -- after repeated missteps on and off the court.

But Beasley isn't hiding or denying those demons now. He vows to address and destroy them.

His recent past could impact his immediate future. Beasley still could face punishment from the league at the start of the season for an August arrest on a marijuana charge that led, in large part, to his release from the Phoenix Suns.

"I learned a lot from a lot of situations," Beasley said. "It's life. Learn from it. I grew older, grew wiser. I'm a better person now. I've seen a lot. I've been through a lot. I've experienced a lot. I'm humbled. It definitely humbled me. I'm definitely a different person -- not as carefree, more aware of life, not just basketball, just life, period."

As his contract suggests, Beasley knows there are no guarantees in this second go-round with the Heat.

This could flourish into yet another story about the return and rejuvenation of a prodigal son. Or, fizzle out as a failure.

"It's all predicated on him," Wade said of Beasley.

And he knows it. The question is, will he show it?

"It's just me at the point of my life and my career [where] I just didn't want to guess anymore," Beasley said of seeking this chance with the Heat. "This is the perfect place for me. I'm grateful that they still even care. Just to be here, it's hard to explain, coming from where I came from."

No, Beasley hasn't stepped onto easy street in Miami.

And there's no cutting corners on his path to redemption.

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