Posted Oct 13 2010 9:52AM - Updated Oct 13 2010 11:15AM
MINNEAPOLIS -- Michael Beasley had just learned that he would be living on hallowed ground this season, working and dressing out of the same stall in the Minnesota Timberwolves locker room that Kevin Garnett and Al Jefferson had used.
"Really?" Beasley said, starting to poke around on shelves and open doors as if he were hoping to find a leftover diamond stud or an old Tupperware container of 20-and-10. "I guess it's cool."
Just then, Kevin Love piped up from a couple of stalls over: "It means you're gonna be traded."
Yuks all around.
Highly unlikely, though, that Beasley will be dealt anytime soon. For a couple of reasons: The Wolves will never match the bargain they got when they traded for him this summer, picking him up for two second-round picks in Pat Riley's clearance sale down in Miami. The Heat impresario needed to open a few extra million dollars in salary-cap space and a couple thousand more minutes of playing time for his Super Team, so Beasley -- the No. 2 pick in the 2008 Draft -- had a markdown sticker on him. David Kahn, the Wolves president of basketball operations and a Riley crony since their days working together on NBC's NBA studio show, pounced like a Macy's shopper spotting a designer label in the clearance bin.
Then there is Beasley's specific value to the Wolves, both in what he is and what he isn't. What he isn't is the same sort of low-post, paint-anchored presence that Jefferson was for three years, the past two as the primary hindrance to Love's opportunities because of the two power forwards' positional overlap. What Kahn, coach Kurt Rambis and the rest of the Wolves hope is that Beasley is a player skilled enough to adapt to the small-forward spot, young enough (21) to have untapped potential and smart enough to seize the second chance he has been given.
"Beasley should be good here," Denver's Carmelo Anthony said Tuesday night after the Wolves' 122-108 preseason victory over the Nuggets at Target Center. "I've been a friend of Beasley since he was in high school. Him in this situation, I told him after the game, 'You should be all right here. As long as you have no type of distractions, you should be all right.' "
During the game, the 6-foot-9 native of Maryland and alum of Oak Hill Academy -- like 'Melo -- was more than all right. He matched up with Anthony from the start, appeared determined to counter everything the Denver star did and ended up outscoring him 21-19. Beasley had four rebounds, three assists, three steals, two blocks and three turnovers in 25 ½ minutes, logging many of them alongside Love.
He looked very small-forward-ish out there, which was the point, though he also played a couple shifts at the position into which he was drafted by Miami two years ago. Before Beasley subbed in midway through the second quarter, Minnesota assistant coach Bill Laimbeer squared up in his face and reminded him: "Get some boards!"
"I acknowledge that's a hard thing," Rambis said later, "for a player to play one position that has certain responsibilities and duties in our offense and then play another position that has different responsibilities and duties. He has to change gears all the time. For a player to shift like that is very difficult. But that's something I think he'll evolve into as he understands better what we're doing here."
Said Beasley: "You've got to approach the game with a certain mental toughness, I guess. You've got to put your thinking cap on. I can't just go out there and run the 'four' position doing the same things I'm doing at the 'three.' I've got to think a lot sometimes and it slows me down, but I'm still learning."
Hard to quibble with the oh-so-early results: Minnesota is 3-0 in the preseason, heading into its game Wednesday at Indiana, and Beasley is its top scorer at 18.3 points a game. In barely 69 minutes he has taken 39 shots, a rate of .565 field-goal attempts per minute played. That makes his role with the Wolves this season pretty clear. Oklahoma City's Kevin Durant averaged .514 shots per minute played last season. Anthony has averaged .528 over his career.
"He's the type of player who's going to score in bunches," said Love, drafted three spots behind Beasley in 2008. "He's just going to have nights when he's going to be spectacular. I tell him, 'Don't be afraid to make the extra pass, but you've got to be our assassin for us. You've got to be the guy who'll really score the ball. And if you're shooting, you've got one of the best rebounders in the game right here.' "
And so it has gone, with Love averaging 14.7 points and 12.3 rebounds in a tandem that Kahn envisioned when he traded Jefferson -- at a bargain price nearly as friendly as Beasley's -- two future first-rounders and project Kosta Koufos -- to Utah. With Minnesota having spent the No. 4 pick this June on Syracuse's smooth Wesley Johnson and still employing wings such as Corey Brewer and Martell Webster, it's not as if Beasley won't be pushed for time at small forward.
But he will be given every chance to handle nightly matchups with some of the NBA's elite players, from Anthony and Durant to LeBron James, Paul Pierce, Luol Deng, Andre Iguodala and Rudy Gay.
"No nights off at that position," Anthony said. "With me knowing him, it's going to be more pride than anything."
Beasley's pride was evident when he talked about Miami and how the NBA's most visible, most celebrated, most scrutinized and most anticipated new team only became possible when he was shed. True, the young power forward had been a disappointment with the Heat, averaging a modest 14.3 points and 4.4 rebounds a game, while running afoul of the league's anti-drug policy (the marijuana use about which Kahn got fined $50,000 for discussing on a Twin Cities radio show).
Derrick Rose, the No. 1 pick that year to what many considered Beasley's 1A status, has been an instant hit and an All-Star with Chicago. O.J. Mayo (No. 3), Russell Westbrook (4) and Brooke Lopez (10) have settled into key roles with their respective teams. Love's value has been evident despite spotty minutes and his previous bench role.
And here was Beasley being swept out by Miami for a grander plan.
"I don't care about Miami. I'm not in Miami anymore," Beasley said, friendly still. But the smile that was there flattened and his eyes deadened a bit. "My sole focus is on the Minnesota Timberwolves and doing everything I can do to help the team, and make this a better place."
But having his spot, his minutes and his salary carved up and handed over to others, that didn't hurt his feelings?
"I don't have no feelings. This game is cutthroat, this business is cutthroat. The more feelings you've got, the worse you're going to do. So I have no feelings, no soul, when it comes to basketball."
This is a player who, 30 minutes earlier, was fully effervescent, bantering with Wolves and Nuggets players on the court, even interacting with referees and fans during the tuneup game. "Mmm, that's different," Beasley said. "When I'm actually playing, I put it in motion. But worrying about getting traded to a certain team, for a certain player ... mmm, I don't do that. I move on. I forget about the past and just live my life."
Thick skin? "I've just been that way for a long time. It's what I've been taught. It works for me."
The Wolves are hopeful that Beasley, in his newfound spots on the court and in the league, works for them.
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