Posted Jan 6 2012 11:51AM
As the Minnesota Timberwolves' hopes and prayers of the recent past give way to expectations and real, concrete plans, it will be telling to see how Michael Beasley fits into it all.
Among the range of possibilities, "not at all" remains very much in play.
Beasley, young as he is (he turns 23 Monday), already seems like a relic of a Timberwolves age gone by. He is a holdover from and, after just 18 months and 79 games with Minnesota heading into its clash with Cleveland on Friday, a remnant of sillier, more scattered time.
Impetuous, undisciplined and still so raw in talent and potential at a sleek 6-foot-9 and 235 pounds, Beasley can be entertaining on court. But that might not be enough anymore now that Kevin Love, Ricky Rubio and Derrick Williams are the core of something truly and, for all the right reasons, exciting.
Beasley was OK a year ago for the Wolves of Jonny Flynn, Sebastian Telfair, Kosta Koufos and coach Kurt Rambis. But that might not be good enough for the group assembled and legitimately coached by Rick Adelman.
"With a guy like Rubio or even Kevin Love at times, the good outweighs the bad," one Wolves insider said this week. "With Beasley, the bad outweighs the good."
Hard as it might be to imagine, after four years of post-Kevin Garnett flailing-about, Minnesota is hot. Beasley, however, is not. Oh, he still fascinates with his skills and what-might-be upside. His history and his free-spirit personality qualify him as one of the reasons the Wolves are a must-see on NBA League Pass these days.
But the way he plays, the way Beasley approaches his craft and his teammates, soon could disqualify him. Again.
It happened in July 2010, when the Miami Heat aimed higher, way higher, than Beasley ever could take them. The Heat brought together its Big Three -- LeBron James and Chris Bosh jumping aboard Dwyane Wade's team -- and sacrificed Beasley to the cause, gifting him to Minnesota for a couple of second-round Draft picks so they could use his salary space on shooter Mike Miller.
Beasley, already a disappointment in south Florida as the No. 2 pick in the 2008 Draft, thrived in the Wolves' land of green lights and zero expectations. Under Rambis, Beasley did his thing offensively and, as usual, did little at all defensively. He averaged a career-best 19.2 points to rank 20th in the NBA, hit 45 percent as an unleashed volume shooter and led the team 28 times in scoring.
In a six-game stretch in November, Beasley averaged 31.3 points and scored at least 25 each night against the Kings, Knicks, Hawks, Bobcats, Clippers and, yes, even the Lakers. And the Wolves won half of them. He topped 30 points eight times and his team, on its way to a 17-65 season, went 4-4 in those games.
Rambis tolerated Beasley's inattention to defense and most other details, and indulged him as his end-of-game option, because he needed him. But the losses mounted and it didn't last. From Jan. 1 to the bitter end, Beasley averaged 17.0 points on 42.8 percent shooting and just 5.2 rebounds.
Then, over the summer, Beasley got noticed for even worse reasons: In late June, he was stopped in suburban Minnetonka for speeding and cited for possession of marijuana, only his latest brush with that drug. In early August, at a summer league game at New York's Dyckman Park, Beasley "mushed" a heckling fan, a moment of dumb caught on cellphone video that night.
Enter Norm Nixon. The former Lakers guard was enticed to counsel Beasley by Wolves basketball president David Kahn, who had seen Nixon's influence as an agent on Jalen Rose back when Rose and Kahn both worked for the Indiana Pacers.
"Michael is like my son now, like one of my kids," Nixon told the St. Paul Pioneer Press last month on a visit to the Twin Cities during the Wolves' quickie training camp. "We have that kind of a relationship. If things happen, he lets me know."
The off-court stuff seems good for now. Beasley spent extra time in the gym, even returning to the practice facility at night with Nixon in tow.
On the court, a post-lockout, scrunched-together season might seem perfect for a player whose game seems to suffer from a basketball ADHD. The more games (and fewer free nights), the better, right?
Except that Beasley has been awful.
He scored 24 points on opening night against Oklahoma City but needed 27 shots to get them. He dallied away most of three quarters, in foul trouble and seemingly distracted, before locking in late for some helpful buckets. In the Wolves' first real glimmer of excitement, the near-upset of Miami on Dec. 30, Beasley was on the bench for the entire fourth quarter. He split open the index finger on his shooting hand (five stitches) in the team's victory over Dallas on Sunday, scored 19 in 43 minutes as the Wolves beat San Antonio a day later ... and then shot 5-of-16 with five turnovers in their flat performance against Memphis on Friday.
Beasley's PER rating, a mediocre 15.5 in 2010-11, is down to 7.8. Rubio, Williams, Anthony Tolliver, Wayne Ellington, Anthony Randolph and J.J. Barea all have better plus/minus numbers through six games.
Beasley remains the Wolves' only threat to create his own shot. He can collapse defenses when he ventures into the lane. But he too often launches from deep-two territory and mostly passes when he's ready to give up the ball, rather than when a teammate is in position to receive it. He's averaging a career-worst 2.8 turnovers, along with 13.5 points and 4.7 rebounds while shooting 40.2 percent.
This is a pivotal season for him. His peers from the 2008 Draft -- Derrick Rose, Love, Russell Westbrook -- are being fitted for or already have received lucrative contract extensions. Beasley (like No. 3 pick O.J. Mayo) looks headed toward restricted free agency and, from there, even more uncertainty.
Beasley's ability to help a team with a real, earnest agenda remains in doubt. Adelman and Kahn provided a lesson for him by inviting to camp 35-year-old Bonzi Wells, another talented guy whose own knucklehead ways sent him to China, Puerto Rico and out of basketball completely in the years since 2008.
Wells, who bounced through five franchises in 10 NBA seasons, said during his brief trial in Minnesota: "I mean, everybody makes mistakes when you're young."
Beasley is still young. Yet the question lingers: As the Timberwolves move up, can Beasley keep up?
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