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Who Will Be Miami Heat's X-Factor This Season?

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Who Will Be Miami Heat's X-Factor This Season?
Layne Murdoch/Getty Images

To quote Jerry Garcia, "what a long, strange trip it's been" for Michael Beasley.

Alright, the last part was added, but you get the point. After spending the past three years away from the team that drafted him, he is back with the Miami Heat on a non-guaranteed deal, a make-good contract that requires him to impress in training camp and preseason in order to make the final roster. 

His role has diminished from blooming superstar to hopeful X-factor looking to make a vacant roster spot following receiving waivers from a 25-win Phoenix Suns team. 

Beasley is the prototypical, clear-cut evidence of a player needing so much more than talent to have an NBA career. He has received praise from some of the league's most keen minds and was chosen ahead of the likes of Russell Westbrook, Kevin Love and Brook Lopez.

The name Michael Beasley seems like a punchline now, but it was only five years ago when the Chicago Bulls were debating if they should either take him or Derrick Rose with the first pick in the 2008 draft. 

Safe to say ,we didn't see this depressing decline coming. At the time, Beasley was arguably the league's top player at the NCAA level, a freshman forward leading the Kansas State Wildcats to the NCAA tournament following up mammoth averages of 26.2 points on 53 percent overall shooting and 38 percent three-point shooting, to go along with 12.4 boards per game.

He was a legitimate choice as the No. 1 pick and the Bulls, as well as the Heat who were selecting second, couldn't go wrong with either Rose or Beasley. When Beasley was passed on by the Bulls, the Heat decided to forgo the obvious need for a point guard or center, instead going with the most talented player in the draft in Beasley.

You couldn't go wrong. Michael Beasley was a high-volume, high-octane scorer who could kill you from outside as well as he could near the basket. He was a combo-forward who could play either position, quick enough to keep up with small forwards and tall enough at 6'9" to hold his own against power forwards. 

His athleticism allowed him to wreak havoc at nearly every aspect around the rim, whether it was finishing on drives or going up for rebounds. 

Everything was going well for Beasley until his sophomore season when he failed to make the jump that fellow sophomores such as Rose, Westbrook and Love made. After making the All-Rookie First Team with averages of 13.9 points and 5.4 boards, his per 36 numbers in his second season declined from his first year.

His three-point percentage dropped from an impressive 41 percent to a paltry 28 percent. With no progress made, as well as his inability to complement Wade, involve himself when the ball wasn't in his hands or play defense, the Heat parted ways with the then 21-year-old in favor of a veteran-laden roster. 

Beasley was sent to the Minnesota Timberwolves in a salary dump by the Heat. As a primary scoring option, Michael dropped a career-high 19.2 points on over 17 field-goal attempts per. The scoring did little to improve his stock as his PER dropped and his role as the starting small forward was usurped by rookie Derrick Williams the following season. 

As a result, he departed from Minnesota and signed onto a Phoenix team that was in desperate need of an identity. It was believed that Beasley would finally find himself on a team that needed the help at small forward and scoring, yet it never came to fruition as he struggled significantly at every aspect of the game, as well as off the court with a marijuana possession arrest that resulted in his release.

Five years after being drafted with the second pick in one of the most stacked drafts in NBA history, Beasley was given $7 million by one of the worst NBA teams to simply go away. From possible perennial All-Star to walking papers and a bribe to leave, Michael Beasley has had one of the most disappointing careers in NBA history.

Beasley averaged 10.1 points on 41 percent shooting to go along with 3.8 rebounds and a career-low PER of 10.8. He also managed the impossible of having negative win shares. 

He's reached the point where he can't even receive a guaranteed contract. He actually proposed the non-guaranteed deal to the Miami Heat, according to The Associated Press (h/t ESPN). It's certainly a sign of maturation on Beasley's part, but nothing is proven until we see his game on-the-court mature. 

However, there is still some light to shed on Beasley's career. For one, he's only 24 years old and doesn't turn 25 until January. Secondly, he hasn't suffered from any serious injuries. Third, he's hooked up with the perfect franchise for a comeback.

In the few days he's been with the Heat, he's already had franchise fixtures Alonzo Mourning and Udonis Haslem in his ear, with no quote better than Haslem's, "This is not five years ago. You have evolved, and we should not have to worry about you off the court anymore," per Linda Robertson of The Miami Herald. 

Haslem is, of course, referring to the young Heat teams Beasley played with from 2008-10, which consisted of a young Mario Chalmers and Dorell Wright. Those teams were the happy-to-be-here crowd of the postseason, an obvious difference from the championship-hungry, veteran-chocked rosters of the past three years and this year. 

It's the exact type of environment Beasley needs. He's surrounded by a family-oriented organization with familiar faces that have grown, as well as the newly acquired veteran leaders who have been added since his departure. 

I'd guess there's less of a chance of Beasley losing his focus when he has LeBron James and Ray Allen breathing down his neck. The Heat team you see today is not even comparable to the team Beasley was traded from in 2010. 

What makes Beasley the X-Factor of this team is because you're not sure what you're going to get out of him. He could not even make the final roster or he could end up cracking the rotation. He has quite a few attributes and traits that many of the Heat bench doesn't possess. 

What Miami would love to see from Beasley is the ability to be a multidimensional offensive threat that can also rebound. Outside of the "Big Three," Ray Allen and the Heat's point guards, there are few players on this team who can successfully create their own shots without needing a kick-out or a running start. 

Beasley has proven to be able to both take opponents off the dribble and shoot over the top of defenders. He converted on 43 percent of his 734 jumpers in his rookie season, and he shot as well as 41 percent in the 16- to 23- foot range in the season with Minnesota where he averaged a career-high in points. 

Cast Beasley as yet another player in the rotation who can stretch the floor. But that's not even the best of what he could offer the Heat. No, his offense would only be an added bonus if he could put that athleticism to use in aiding the team's woes on the rebounding front.

It's a tall order, but it's a plausible one, especially if Beasley wants to earn a consistent role on this team.

Despite the gaudy rebounding numbers he put up at KSU, Beasley has never averaged more than 6.4 rebounds per game since entering the league. On this small Heat team, however, and with Greg Oden being weened back into the flow of the game, Beasley could earn himself a role as a rebound in the team's second-unit. 

The bench of the Heat is mainly equipped with veteran shooters (Shane Battier, Ray Allen, Rashard Lewis, James Jones) and shot-blockers (Chris Andersen and Joel Anthony). There isn't a great deal of versatility or athleticism employed by any of those names, leaving Beasley as a one-of-a-kind player outside of the starting lineup.

The Heat coaching staff's wish for Beasley is to successfully adjust and adapt to his new role of complementary role player. It's not near the sidekick position he had from 2008-10, nor is it the heavy role he received with Minnesota. It's the role predestined for a troubled player looking to make a comeback alongside veterans who know the ins-and-outs of this league. 

It all depends on Beasley. He will go as far as he will allow himself to go. This is his final chance to earn any sort of future NBA contract and his recognition of the weight of the situation will only assist him in his comeback.  

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