PHOENIX — In a league where it’s imperative that players and teams fit like a hand in a glove,and the Phoenix Suns are making sure that the forward’s troubled past is behind him.
The talent is hard to argue against. Beasley left Kansas State after one season, and through four years in the NBA has averaged 15.1 points and 5.6 rebounds per game with the Miami Heat, who drafted him second overall in 2008, and more recently with the Minnesota Timberwolves.
But injuries, and most of all off-the-court troubles, have set back the career of the 6-foot-10 forward, who Suns general manager Lance Blanks called “one of the most talented basketball players in the league right now.”
Why do they think it’ll work this time around? Because Phoenix is putting all its efforts into making sure Beasley gets it right on the court and off it, something he’s struggled with having been arrested on a marijuana charge, among other transgressions.
Beasley is making sure he gets it right, too.
“I want to take my past head-on,” he said during an introductory press conference on Friday. “What happened, happened. It was part of a growing process. I’m still a young man, I’m still learning today. The mistakes I’ve made in the past are hopefully behind me.”
Much of the change stems from a year-and-a-half relationship with two-time NBA All-Star Norm Nixon, who has mentored Beasley.
“Sitting down, especially with Norm Nixon, I’ve really realized my potential,” said Beasley, who a year after Kevin Durant tore through his single NCAA season, bettered the two-time NBA scoring champ’s freshman numbers in both points (26.2 to 25.8) and rebounds (12.4 to 11.1).
“I’ve realized what I have to do,” Beasley said when questioned about his marijuana use. “And I’ve realized 10 minutes of feeling good isn’t really worth putting my life and my career and my legacy in jeopardy. I’m confident to say that part of my life, that part of my career, is over.”
Phoenix actually set out in the free agency period with Beasley atop its free agent list, according to Lon Babby. Beasley got a text from the Suns as soon as the clock struck midnight on the first of this month, he said.
Feeling wanted by Phoenix went a long way, and it was mutual for the Suns. Head coach Alvin Gentry and Blanks both cited Beasley’s personality as being infectious; through all the troubled times the forward has gone through, there’s no record of him causing troubles in the locker room or teammates disliking him.
“In truth, he’s a big kid,” Blanks said. “As some of us suffer from adult ADD, he does from child ADD. He’s all over the place. He’s texting and laughing and joking. He’s doing everything the youth is doing today. I’m excited to infuse that into our organization because it’s something new, it’s something fresh, it’s something different.”
A Phoenix committee, including Gentry, met with Beasley in Los Angeles to kick off the team’s free agent push. The $18 million, three-year contract offer came after the Suns became impressed with Beasley’s openness and self-awareness.
He didn’t point the finger at anyone but himself, Blanks said.
“The thing that I admire most about him is he was so transparent in everything that he said,” Gentry added. “He wants to be a great basketball player, he wants to be a complete basketball player. As a coach, that gets you excited.”
Beasley has been working out heavily during the summer. He wakes up at 6 a.m. and isn’t finished working out until 4. Track, yoga, ballet, two martial arts — Shotokan and Jujitsu — and basketball drills are part of the daily routine.
The Suns say they have faith in Beasley’s resurgence. They too were transparent in saying they’ll give him all the support needed to find the potential that he scratched in his best season of 2010-11, when he averaged 19.2 points, 5.5 rebounds and 2.2 assists with Minnesota.
“We’re going to bring him in here, put our arms around him as an organization and as people,” Blanks said, “and pour everything we have into him to help him be the best basketball player and from where I sit, the best person that he can be.”
Beasley felt the love when the Suns met with him in Los Angeles, and he said he didn’t need to meet with another team to make his decision during free agency.
“It made me feel like I’m still one of the best basketball players,” Beasley said of the meeting, “even though in my heart I know I am. Just to have that confidence from someone else, just makes you feel good about yourself.”
“I really feel like they’re sincere in everything they say,” he added. “It makes me feel good that someone believes in me and is willing to give me a chance.”