If San Antonio Spurs Can't Save Michael Beasley's NBA Career, Then No One Can

Stephen Babb@@StephenBabbFeatured ColumnistSeptember 18, 2014

MIAMI, FL - NOVEMBER 12: Michael Beasley #8 of the Miami Heat looks on during a game against the Milwaukee Bucks at AmericanAirlines Arena on November 12, 2013 in Miami, Florida. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory copyright notice:  (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

Stranger things have happened. That's what we're told, anyway.

Every now and then you come across something that makes you wonder if that's in fact the case.

Yahoo Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski reports, "Free-agent forward Michael Beasley is working out for the defending NBA champion San Antonio Spurs at the franchise's practice facility this week, league sources told Yahoo Sports."

That's right. The franchise known for pursuing highly professional talent whose DNA is ready-made for head coach Gregg Popovich's no-nonsense culture has apparently turned its attention to a guy with one of the league's more checkered pasts.

The Spurs have proven very adept at discovering diamonds in the rough, but that rarely involves an outright reclamation project.

As Wojnarowski notes, "Off-the-court issues have contributed to NBA teams' reluctance to sign Beasley, but there's still a belief he can be an effective scorer."

In all fairness, Beasley's latest stint with the Miami Heat last season appeared to be relatively free of drama.

That hardly means it was a success, though.

The six-year veteran averaged career lows of 7.9 points and 3.1 rebounds in just 15.1 minutes per contest. The only saving grace was his making 49.9 percent of his field-goal attempts, a career high and encouraging sign of improved shot selection.

CLEVELAND, OH - NOVEMBER 27:  Michael Beasley #8 of the Miami Heat prepares for the game against the Cleveland Cavaliers at The Quicken Loans Arena on November 27, 2013 in Cleveland, Ohio. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by down
Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

Some of the downturn should be attributed to the fact that Beasley suddenly found himself playing for a title contender. Playing time and touches were bound to be limited from the outset, especially with a four-time MVP and established veterans like Shane Battier and Rashard Lewis manning the forward positions.

The more troubling takeaway from the Miami chapter has less to do with numbers and more to do with hearsay.

The organization that selected him with the No. 2 overall pick in 2008 began its Beasley reunion with the best of intentions and a heavy dose of cautious optimism.

As NBCSports.com's Brett Pollakoff observed, "The franchise was hopeful that the familiarity there, along with the strong locker-room presence that the championship team possessed would be enough to help him turn things around."

An incident-free year later, it was the 25-year-old's performance on the court that left doubts—doubts that were acute enough for the Heat to quickly shut down any talk of a 2014-15 encore.

The Miami Herald's Barry Jackson wrote in August, "A person with direct knowledge cited several reasons for the Heat's lack of interest: inconsistency, lack of trust in his defense (and ability to execute the Heat's defensive system), and maturity/focus issues, which are still a concern even though he improved somewhat in that regard last season."

CLEVELAND, OH - NOVEMBER 27:  Michael Beasley #8 and LeBron James #6 of the Miami Heat joke around during a break in the action against the Cleveland Cavaliers at The Quicken Loans Arena on November 27, 2013 in Cleveland, Ohio. NOTE TO USER: User expressl
David Liam Kyle/Getty Images

Worse yet, the Beasley experiment apparently failed to impress LeBron James.

"NBA sources said James was not pleased with Beasley's focus, and he lost the confidence of coach Erik Spoelstra shortly into the season," wrote The Boston Globe's Gary Washburn in June. "In one sequence that typified his career, Beasley swooped in for a tip-dunk in Game 5 of the NBA Finals. On the Spurs' next possession, Beasley got lost on a pick-and-roll, allowing Diaw an open three-pointer, which of course he swished."

Others in the locker room approached the issue with equal doses of diplomacy and realism.

"I've always been on Beas as far as being a two-way player," Chris Bosh explained to NBA.com's Jeff Caplan during the Finals. "He needs to play defense and offense. It's something you’re really not taught early on in your career. But I think for him, just with his athleticism and strength, he can be a phenomenal two-way player."

"He's grown quite a bit, and he can use all these lessons he's gathering to really help him in the future," Bosh added.

MIAMI, FL - OCTOBER 19: Michael Beasley #8 of the Miami Heat looks on while smiling against the San Antonio Spurs during a game on October 19, 2013 at American Airlines Arena in Miami, Florida. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by
Issac Baldizon/Getty Images

It doesn't require much speculation to surmise the Spurs might help Beasley grow even more. This is a team that made things work with the enigmatic Stephen Jackson (during two separate stints, no less). It's a team that gave Boris Diaw a second chance after he was waived in 2012 by the Charlotte Bobcats—then the worst club in the league.

If extending Beasley's NBA career is just a matter of eliciting more inspired defense and improved focus, Popovich and Co. are almost certainly up to the challenge.

The organization doesn't demand perfection. It just needs buy-in.

But while few may doubt San Antonio's ability to make the most of Beasley, its willingness to do so is another story. Early reactions to the scenario have accordingly expressed a predictable measure of shock and awe.

CBSSports.com's Matt Moore argues, "On the surface, the Spurs seem like the exact opposite kind of place for Beasley. They don't allow nonsense, they don't allow hijinx, they don't allow drama."

NBCSports.com's Kurt Helin similarly writes, "Beasley is not exactly known for selflessness. Or playing within a system. Or focus. Or attention to detail. Or being a solid citizen in the locker room. Or anything else that has made the Spurs the Spurs."

In short, San Antonio's interest in Beasley is nothing short of paradoxical. It's precisely the kind of counterintuitive, outside-the-box thinking that speaks to the organization's most ineffable qualities. Just when we think we know what makes the Spurs tick, they go and do something that couldn't seem more out of character.

Beasley's biggest challenge may be shaking a reputation that's undergone judgment in the court of public opinion.

As Caplan notes, "He's had multiple run-ins with the law for marijuana possession, various driving violations (which one stop included possession of a loaded gun) and in May 2013, toward the end of his one tumultuous season with the Phoenix Suns, police investigated an alleged sexual assault." 

PHOENIX, AZ - FEBRUARY 11:  Michael Beasley #8 of the Miami Heat during the NBA game against the Phoenix Suns at US Airways Center on February 11, 2014 in Phoenix, Arizona. The Heat defeated the Suns 103-97.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and
Christian Petersen/Getty Images

It's not a Spurs-like track record, but perhaps it's unfair to define Beasley's off-court life by some combination of accusations and youthful indiscretion. 

If there's an NBA culture that can turn those kinds of optics around, it's the one in San Antonio.

That said, the Spurs still appear to be exploring their options. 

Salient variables include what becomes of free-agent center Aron Baynes and whether the club will get a shot at signing Mexican big man Gustavo Ayon. The organization only has one roster spot remaining open, so there's no guarantee there will be room for Beasley.

Meanwhile, Beasley himself may simply be trying to build a more robust market for his services. Any link to the Spurs could theoretically help in that regard.

Basketball Insiders' Alex Kennedy reported via Twitter in July, "Several teams have expressed interest in free agent Michael Beasley. Teams like the efficiency and maturity he showed last season in Miami."

To date, however, that interest hasn't been very visible.

USA Today's Sam Amick reported in August that the Los Angeles Lakers recently watched Beasley work out for a second time, fueling some speculation that general manager Mitch Kupchak could add some upside to a rotation that's already undergone fairly significant change this summer. 

At the moment, there's no bidding war for Beasley's services. No job offers from a league that's principally concerned with what guys like Beasley have done for it lately.

The former highly touted Kansas State product had his most productive season with the Minnesota Timberwolves in 2010-11, averaging a career-high 19.2 points per contest and starting all 73 games in which he played.

After a far more muted second campaign with the Timberwolves, Phoenix rolled the dice in 2012 only to watch Beasley's production and efficiency further decline.

So to some extent, the question teams like San Antonio are trying to answer is which Beasley will show up for the 2014-15 season. Should the Spurs go in a different direction (for whatever reason), Beasley's options will be limited—perhaps nonexistent. 

And if this unlikely marriage does come together, the results are anyone's guess. At best, Beasley could carve a niche in the rotation behind forward Kawhi Leonard, perhaps spending a few extra minutes at the 4 when Popovich elects to go small. Beasley's versatility could be his calling card on a team that's valued similar qualities in Diaw and others.

Should life with the Spurs flame out prematurely, Beasley's next job search would be the hardest one yet. He desperately needs a vote of confidence from a credible source, and anything less could already doom his fledgling attempts at a return to form.

By now, Beasley's still-legitimate potential has been offset by enough disappointment to keep most teams at bay.

What better time to remember that the San Antonio Spurs aren't most teams?

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