LeBron James teased Dwyane Wade about his short “little boy” haircut, and Wade riposted with a crack about James’ short shorts. Shane Battier, karaoke master, sang a little Al Green. Udonis Haslem discussed the peace of being a married man. Ray Allen showed off his Spanish. Chris Andersen flexed his biceps.
Heat players were in a good mood Monday before they took off for training camp in the Bahamas. They deserved to bask in the glory of two consecutive NBA championships before the drudgery begins.
But amid the smiling poses there was one player who was not relaxed in the spotlight or happy to talk about his offseason.
Michael Beasley answered questions about his rocky past and iffy future in pro basketball. Confronted by cameras, he picked at his fingernails, struggled to find the right words. It was awkward, as it would be for anyone whose personal mistakes are magnified by public judgment.
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But Beasley knew he would be asked to explain himself because he’s backed himself into the same corner before: Why, Michael, is this time any different?
“I’m older, wiser,” he said. “I’ve been through a lot. I’m humble. I’m definitely a different person. Not as carefree. More aware of life and not just basketball.”
Sound familiar? Beasley, back in a Heat uniform after the Phoenix Suns and Minnesota Timberwolves decided he wasn’t worth the trouble, has previously pledged to grow up, stop smoking marijuana and fulfill his potential.
“I’m confident to say that part of my career, that part of my life, is over and won’t be coming back,” Beasley said when he joined the Suns. He was cut 14 months later after three incidents, the most recent of which was an arrest for marijuana possession in August. There’s also an ongoing sexual assault investigation, and on Jan. 25 he was cited for speeding with a suspended license in a car that had no license plate and a loaded gun inside.
The Heat, which drafted Beasley with the No. 2 pick in 2008, signed him to a nonguaranteed contract two weeks ago. Pat Riley and Erik Spoelstra took a low-cost risk on reclamation project Andersen last season, and the Birdman paid off, so they are taking two more — on the knees of Greg Oden and the maturity of Beasley.
The acclaimed “Heat culture” — high expectations for success, low tolerance for foolishness — is where Beasley has his best shot at shedding his pothead reputation.
“It’s a blessing to be here,” he said. “I’m looking at it with an open mind, knowing this organization doesn’t really need me. There are different paths to the mountaintop, and I chose the hard route. It’s scary, but at least I feel like I’m with family.”
Beasley’s problems became apparent with the Heat. He and Mario Chalmers were fined when they set off their hotel room fire alarm at the NBA’s rookie orientation meeting. Police said they smelled burned pot. The two friends got fined several times by Spoelstra throughout their first season.
In summer 2009, Beasley checked into a rehab center. He started at forward before he was traded to clear cap space for the 2010 Big 3 signings. In Minnesota, he was pulled over for speeding, and police found marijuana.
Beasley was 19 when he was drafted. He seemed younger than that. SpongeBob SquarePants was a favorite topic. Although he remains a fan of Power Rangers and Barney, the youth excuse no longer applies.
Haslem is Beasley’s mentor. He promised Frank Martin — his Miami High coach and Beasley’s Kansas State coach — that he would take care of Beasley as a rookie and feels he failed.
“I sat down with Michael and Mario and said, ‘This is not five years ago. You have evolved, and we shouldn’t have to worry about you off the court anymore,’ ” Haslem said. “The one thing no one can say about Beas is, he’s never been a bad locker room guy.”
Haslem considers Beasley a “little brother” who needs tough love.
“Sometimes, part of the problem is the people you hang around with,” Haslem said. “It sucks having to cut some friends, but you have to do it.”
Beasley was a detriment to the 25-57 Suns, criticized for being a ball hog and vulnerable defender. Where would he fit on the Heat?
“Coming to a high-scoring team, I’ve got to find a new niche,” he said. “Energy. Rebounding.”
Whatever his role, Beasley — who grew up playing with Kevin Durant — does not want to be an NBA bust.
Asked whether he has regrets, Beasley raised his chin and said, “No.” He then revealed how unconvincing that declaration was when he said he wished he had never been traded by the Heat.
“When you see your old team get to the NBA Finals three years in a row you get hungry, you get mad,” he said.
In his second chance with Miami, last chance in the NBA, is Beasley hungry enough?