Michael Beasley talks a lot about basketball. It's ironic, in a way.
Conversations about Beasley often have little to do with his abilities or about his place within the sport itself. His name is associated with weed, with hotheads, with unpredictability. Rarely does a Beasley discussion center on his ability as a basketball player.
But Beasley is a strong and crafty lefty, a genuine power forward during an era in which power has largely abandoned the position. Beasley can stretch the floor as well, but he mostly lives in and around the paint. He plays an old-school game, and he plays it well.
That's why the Lakers signed him this summer to a one-year deal worth $3.5 million. L.A.'s decision to surround LeBron James with Beasley, Rajon Rondo, JaVale McGee and Lance Stephenson drew some criticism, largely because they're each prone to Shaqt a Fool from time to time.
That's all fine, but save it for another day. Right now, Michael Beasley wants to talk hoops.
After all, Beasley is at the top of his game. He wouldn't say so himself, but the numbers don't lie. Last season, Beasley started 30 games for the Knicks, his highest total since 2010-11. As a starter, he averaged 16.0 points and 6.4 rebounds while shooting 50.6 percent overall and 46.7 percent from three. Few players across the league matched those percentages, let alone the counting stats.
He was a gift for the struggling Knicks in the wake of Kristaps Porzingis' ACL tear. On many nights, Beasley was the Knicks' best player. While that may not be the most distinguished title in sports, Beasley can still ball at the age of 29.
Earlier this week, he called from his home in Atlanta to discuss just that.
Bleacher Report: Are the Lakers a playoff team?
Michael Beasley: As of now, we're out, according to all the polls. Rightfully so. But I think we're a team that will be able to decide our own fate by how hard we work and how much we're willing to sacrifice physically and mentally. I'm not going to put my foot in my mouth and say we're going to win 25 championships or 75 games, no. But I'm confident that we got a group of guys that wants to play basketball the right way, wants to win and work hard. With that being said, I think we can be exactly where we want to be at the end of the year.
B/R: It's nearly a brand-new roster. How do you expect it to mesh?
Beasley: I don't know for sure because we haven't gotten together yet, but first thoughts: Running and spacing the floor will be so fun this year. It's rare you play with three guys who average seven-plus assists, and we have it. For us to average 30 assists per game this year, I wouldn't be surprised if we get somewhere around that number. (Ed: That would have led the league last season.)
B/R: You have high-IQ teammates in LeBron and Rondo, among others. Are you excited to connect with them?
Beasley: I love it. I love the game when everyone plays the right way. Not just LeBron and Rondo. We got Lonzo [Ball], who loves to get everybody involved. Lance—when he's focused, Lance is one of the best playmakers in the game. We just gotta get together and play basketball, learn each other out and work hard.
B/R: How much Lonzo Ball tape have you watched? What do you think of his game?
Beasley: I'm a big Lonzo fan. I don't understand how Lonzo gets so much criticism, averaging almost 11 points, seven rebounds, seven assists, a steal and a block per game. Granted, his percentages were low, but you all think Russell Westbrook can shoot, and he's got the same three-point percentage. (Ed: Lonzo's was a tick higher last year.) Two years ago, Malcolm Brogdon won Rookie of the Year with 10 points and three rebounds a game, but now Lonzo is 11-7-7 and he's a bust? I'm a Lonzo fan. I think if you just let him play and not worry about if he can shoot or not, I think you will see a player that knows how and wants to play a complete game of basketball. Same thing with Kyle Kuzma. I liked him in college but didn't know how skilled he was until I played against him in the NBA. Josh Hart, same thing.
B/R: How can you help the young Lakers along?
Beasley: There's things I can show them, but for the most part with guys like those, it's really just get out of the way. Give them space to work. Let guys think their own game.
B/R: This will be your second time playing with LeBron. What's changed since you teamed up in Miami?
Beasley: I played with LeBron the first time when I was 24 years old. I was at a different point in my career. The only thing that mattered to me was minutes. Now I know what I do, what I bring to the table, and LeBron does, too. I'm coming to help the team potentially make the playoffs, coming to play basketball the right way. Whatever happens after that, I can live with.
B/R: Last year, I noticed you added a little lefty version of Dirk's one-legged fadeaway. What are you working on this summer, trying to add?
Beasley: First of all, thanks for noticing. I'm working on handling the ball in the open floor. My main goal is showing up to camp in good shape and working on my three, spreading the floor.
B/R: On paper, there isn't much three-point shooting on this team. What will the collective approach be? I doubt it will look like Golden State or Houston, driving and kicking for threes.
Beasley: I think if you look at everybody individually, in the past, in their respective roles, they weren't asked to shoot threes. Like, Lance was playing with Paul George, and Rondo played with Ray Allen. LeBron can't just sit out there and wait for somebody to make a play for him. I'm not saying we can all be 50 percent three-point shooters, but particularly if you look at my percentages, my three-point percentage is not bad at all. It's actually pretty good. I think we're all smart enough to play the game the right way.
B/R: How were your conversations with Magic Johnson and the Lakers?
Beasley: I was happy that someone trusted that I could play basketball, somebody wanted me to play basketball. Being in L.A., being with LeBron—all those things were a plus, but the way the Lakers were speaking to me on behalf of me and my game and things I can do for the Lakers, that part was overwhelming for me. Because I've really been at a down state in my career mentally and confidence-wise. So to reassure me that I can play basketball, the way Magic was talking—it was good to hear someone I looked up to talk about my game. Being wanted and being admired was really overwhelming.
B/R: When you say you're at a down state, are you referring to your season with the Knicks, where you played pretty well, or the past few seasons in general, bouncing around the league?
Beasley: Both. I thought I earned—I believe I earned—more time with the Knicks, but that's that. I guess I'm moving on.
B/R: Los Angeles will be your fifth NBA city since 2014-15. Have you thought about the logistics of going to L.A. yet? Do you have a house set up there?
Beasley: Being 11 years in, that's the hardest part. Especially with what we just talked about, having to uproot and move and find a place and things like that. It's hard, but it's fun at the same time. I love architecture, decor, things like that. But I've literally been doing it every year for the last seven or eight years now. I'm tired of it, but at the same time, I've always been a guy to roll with the punches.
B/R: LeBron is signed for several years, and the Lakers have this young core. It's early, but can you envision Los Angeles being a place to settle down?
Beasley: I've felt like that every year for the last eight years, so I'm going into this situation with the mindset of playing basketball for a year and coming home to Atlanta at the end of the year and whatever happens, happens. I want a long-term contract, two, three, four years, 100 percent. But at this point, I'm tired of getting my hopes up and smashed. But the Lakers organization, from Rob Pelinka to Jeanie Buss to Magic, they've treated us like family. So, they did nothing wrong as to why I feel the way I feel. It's just kinda like a battered-dog situation. I'm gonna take it a day at a time, and hopefully the days don't end.
B/R: Were you surprised LeBron went to Los Angeles?
Beasley: A little piece of me didn't think he'd leave Cleveland, but every time I make a [prediction] like that, it's always the opposite. I didn't think he was gonna leave Cleveland, so I knew he was gonna leave Cleveland. I 100 percent didn't think L.A. I thought the Philly situation made sense—teams that already had things in place to win the championship made sense. But when you listen to him speak and watch him play, and you watch how every team he brought to the Finals was all him making the situation 100 times better, it makes sense now.
B/R: Once he signed on, did you look at L.A. and think, "Hmm, that could be a spot for me?"
Beasley: Honestly, when he went to Los Angeles, I really just crossed L.A. out in my mind. With the young core they have, the roster is stacked, so I was just like, "Aight, well, that might be another boat I missed." But my agent had something up his sleeve.
Beasley: I think it was f--king bulls--t! [Laughs.] No, I'm just playing. I was surprised, but for DeMarcus, it was the best move. Coming off an injury, the market not being what he thought it'd be, him going there gives him a good chance to reevaluate what a winning culture is, to better himself on and off the court. But I'm like everybody else, too. God damn, you got DeMarcus Cousins? You got two championships with JaVale, he leaves, and you replace him with DeMarcus? C'mon, man. But at the end of the day, we're all men, and we play basketball the same way. I don't think they're unbeatable; we just gotta go back to the drawing board.
This interview has been condensed and edited.