Five quick-hitting Miami Heat items to start the second week of February:
1. Michael Beasley didn't get a gift basket upon his departure from Phoenix.
Actually, his exit appeared extremely unpleasant, with Suns president Lon Babby issuing a statement about the "termination agreement," explaining the move in part with the following scolding: "It is essential that we demand the highest standards of personal and professional conduct."
"It's something to look forward to," Beasley said. "I'm looking forward to seeing my kids, my family, my dogs. I still got my house there."
He left close friends behind too, including P.J. Tucker and "The Twins," Markieff and Marcus Morris.
"I mean, the whole organization was friendly, was nice," Beasley said. "I was particularly close to the owner. Me and him spent a lot of nights together."
What sort of conversations did he share with Robert Sarver?
"We just talked about life, man," Beasley said. "I mean, we were friends."
Beasley remembered one night when "we were kicking it at his house."
Sarver's sons had friends over, so they told Beasley he had to leave.
"I was like, 'whoa, so I'm one of your dad's old friends?'" Beasley recalled. "We were the old guys."
Probably the first time Beasley's heard that.
"Yeah," Beasley said, laughing. "Right."
Beasley's kept his smile, at least in public, all season, even as his playing time has dipped significantly. Prior to injuring his hamstring in early December, he had played at least 14 minutes in 11 of 12 games. He worked his way back into the rotation but has slipped out as Erik Spoelstra has tightened it. Beasley has played just 11 minutes in the Heat's past five games.
"You know, coach's rotation," Beasley said. "It's not a bad thing, playing behind some great players, some smart players. So I'll just stay ready and wait for my opportunity."
While hardly minding if one came Monday against, and in front of, some friends.
2. Greg Oden, naturally, has an appetite for opportunities after missing more than four seasons due to knee injuries.
But that's not why he licks his fingers on just about every offensive possession, and often more than once.
"My hands get very dry," Oden said. "Them balls are made for people with sweaty hands, and I got dry hands, so sometimes I can hardly palm the ball."
This isn't something new, even though it's caught the eye of Heat fans, some of whom are watching the center play semi-regularly for the first time.
"When I was in Portland, I had this thing that was, like, sticky," Oden said. "But then they would wear off in like two plays."
So, these days, saliva must do.
3. Udonis Haslem will someday see his jersey retired in the rafters, for his loyal service to the Heat franchise for more than a decade.
Lately, though, we haven't seen much of that jersey on the court.
Haslem played 31 minutes in Charlotte on Jan. 18, providing dogged post defense against Al Jefferson. He played 12 minutes in Atlanta two nights later. He has played a total of two minutes in the eight games since. Just like James Jones, Joel Anthony and Mike Miller before him, Haslem's become the odd guy out.
On the surface, this season's statistics are supportive of Spoelstra's decision. At age 33, Haslem is shooting his lowest percentage (38.6) and posting his lowest per-36-minute rebound average (8.1) as a pro, in addition to a net rating per 100 possessions of minus-13.2. (By comparison, Oden is second worst on the squad, at minus-2.9, and everyone else is positive.)
Yet there were some mitigating circumstances that may have skewed his numbers. One, that Haslem played with a bad back early in the season, when he was accumulating a lot of those numbers. And two, it's difficult for any shooter to establish rhythm when playing so sporadically. Just last season, Haslem posted a net rating of plus-11.9, tied for third best on the team.
Even so, he won't skewer Spoelstra for the decision. Never been his style.
Before Saturday's game in Utah, sweating profusely after a pregame workout, Haslem took the only road he knows.
"It's out of my control," Haslem said.
"Obviously, I want to be out there playing, but there's nothing I can do. I don't make the calls, I just got to stay ready. I know there's gonna be a point where they're gonna need me, because there always is. ... I don't know everything, I'm not a prophet. But since this team has been together, there has come a point in the season, whether it be playoffs or regular season, where I've had to step up for us."
In the latter, some of the analytics told Spoelstra to sit Haslem. Instead, the coach went with his gut, and Haslem rewarded him with two 8-of-9 shooting performances to help win Game 3 and Game 5. Perhaps a similar scenario will present itself this postseason.
Haslem stressed that he loves the game and the franchise as much as he ever has, even 11 years in. So he wanted to make one last thing clear, with a player option (for $4.8 million) coming after this season.
"I want to retire with this organization," Haslem said firmly. "Just because it's tough doesn't mean I'm gonna bail."
4. Norris Cole has graduated out of the NBA's Rising Stars Challenge.
The Heat's reserve point guard is now in his third season, and his minutes have increased significantly—from 19.4 and 19.9 all the way to 25.6.
But he'll always have the memory of his participation is the 2012 All-Star Weekend in Orlando, when he was a rookie still trying to make his name.
"I felt I belonged," Cole said. "I scored 18 points in the game, so I did my thing. I was confident already, but I guess it was fun, just the fact that I was there, being among the other elite players, just to know that I belonged and continue to progress and be one of the top young guards."
His family was with him for that weekend.
"That was the start of a special year," Cole said. "At the time, I didn't know how it was going to end. But looking back on it, other than winning the championship and the Eastern Conference championship, that was one of the more special moments. But winning the championship, that trumped it."
Cole won't be the only former All-Star Weekend participant who will sit out the competition in New Orleans.
Ray Allen and James Jones are previous winners of the Three-Point Shootout, and Mario Chalmers competed against Jones in 2012. Chris Andersen competed in the Slam Dunk Contest in 2004 and 2005. Beasley scored 55 points in his two appearances (2009 and 2010) in the Rising Stars Challenge.
Jones and Roger Mason Jr. will be present in New Orleans, but only for union activities.
5. Erik Spoelstra doesn't necessarily look like the dean of the Eastern Conference, and especially not when he wears a backward cap over his jet-black hair.
He ranks, however, as its longest-tenured coach.
Since he took over in the fall of 2008, he has coached 443 regular-season games, winning 295 of them.
And during that time, 47 different men have coached the East's other 14 teams, with the latest, interim coach John Loyer, leading the Detroit Pistons for the first time on Monday night.
"It's a sad representation of where pro coaching is right now, and where the perceived value of coaching is, to make that many changes," Spoelstra said. "That's sad. I mean, one thing with coaching, you need a backing, you need to be able to go through some tough times. You need time to implement a system and a philosophy. And there had to be an accountability, a trust built that the players and the coach are in it together. But that doesn't happen overnight. And you have to go through adversity to be able to overcome things. And if you're not given that chance, there's never that accountability."
Spoelstra, by the way, is just 43 and has the complete confidence of the Heat's front office.
So if the East doesn't shape up soon, that number might even double.
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