Phoenix Suns Michael Beasley turning the corner, making an impact on wins and losses

USA TODAY Sports

What caused Michael Beasley's new-found aggression and attention to detail?

Is it the haircut? "No."

Was it the hand injury, from early in the season, finally healing? "No. Still hurts."

Was it a bad relationship with Alvin Gentry? "No. Alvin's relationship has been great."

Is Hunter bringing out his talents? Truth be told, Beasley's turnaround began three games before Gentry left the team.

What is it then? "I don't know."

None of us really do. But it may have something to do with getting older, looking in the mirror and realizing you're letting time slip away.

Michael Beasley's lowest point of the season, possibly his career, came as he turned 24 years old.

Michael Beasley turned 24 on January 9, 2013. On that night against Boston, he played only 5 minutes (1-for-2 from the field). It was his fourth of five straight games playing fewer than 10 minutes.

Playing ANY game under 10 minutes had happened only 6 other times in his first 4.5 seasons in the NBA - four with Minnesota, two with Miami.

So a stretch of five straight under-10-minute games may have been Beasley's wake-up call.

His career had started out so promising, from dominating college ball to starting for two years at power forward on a playoff-caliber team in Miami. But then off-court issues derailed his focus and the honeymoon period was abruptly over.

Miami shipped Beasley to lowly Minnesota for a bag of Doritos to make room for LeBron James and co. and Beasley never really recovered his game. He was slotted at the small forward position and became a jump shooter who took low-efficiency shots and did little else on the court. Eventually, he was let go as a free agent.

The Suns signed him to try to revive his career and have put a lot of time and effort into his development as a basketball player. Suns GM Lance Blanks staked his reputation on Beasley's success by giving him a three-year contract before the rest of the league even had a chance to blink. Blanks has developed a close relationship with Beasley, as did everyone else.

"From Lon [Babby] to Lance to boss man [Robert Saver] to Alvin [Gentry], everyone's been great," Beasley said when asked about his relationship with the team and front office.

Beasley mentioned Lindsey Hunter's efforts as well, referring to him as a friend off the court all season who would work him out night and day and join him for meals a couple times a week.

Asked specifically if his relationship with Alvin Gentry was strained, Beasley scoffed. "No," he said. "Alvin's relationship has been great. We were friends."

The support has definitely been there, but his play went into the tank. His production was poor, his plus/minus was worst in the NBA (points differential when on the court vs. off the court) and his minutes dwindled.

But the something happened.

Three games BEFORE Alvin Gentry left the Suns, Michael Beasley began to break out of his slump. He played well in his first minutes against Chicago and stayed in the game, making 10 of 14 shots and finished with 20 points and 6 rebounds in 20 minutes of playing time. He followed that up with 14 and 11 against OKC in 25 minutes.

But the Suns lost those games just like most of the others that preceded them, finishing a bad road trip with a 13-27 record and no light at the end of the tunnel.

At that point, Alvin Gentry announced that the Suns were going to play their young guys more minutes, but only gave Beasley 15 minutes and left the rest of the kids on the bench while the Suns lost to Milwaukee at home. The mood in the press room and locker room was as low as it's ever been.

Gentry was out, Hunter was in.

Since Hunter took over, Michael Beasley's distribution of minutes has been remarkably consistent despite Beasley's production being up and down from game to game. He got 22, 22, 22 and 19 minutes before breaking out against Los Angeles and being rewarded with 34 game-changing minutes.

"Lindsey's definitely letting me play more," Beasley said. "Even after bad shots."

Against the Lakers, Beasley started on a rough note with 2 unforced turnovers and a blocked layup attempt before he could even break a sweat. But Hunter left him out there and Beasley turned in his best game of the season.

"My biggest thing with guys," Hunter said. "Don't look to the bench. If you make a mistake, so what. 'I took a bad shot.' So what? You're going to take more of them. Let's get a stop."

This sounds a lot like Goran Dragic's rookie season when Alvin Gentry took over midseason from Terry Porter and told Dragic to stop looking at the bench every time he made a mistake. Dragic blossomed after that and still credits Gentry for his development.

Now the same may be happening with Beasley.

He said he's been "waiting for this opportunity all season. Just playing with it. Definitely a different confidence level than when you're playing not to mess up. More risks, more rewards."

I am sure that Alvin Gentry, like Terry Porter before him, would say they gave plenty of opportunities to their young guys but that the kids didn't step up. And I am also sure that Beasley and Dragic would agree.

But when a new guy takes over and says they love you the way you are, warts and all, sometimes that lightens the burden and allows you to excel.

This may be fools gold. I am sure prior coaches - Pat Riley and Rick Adelman - thought they'd gotten through to Beasley many times, only to see him fade away again.

But at least for now, the Suns get to reap the rewards of a focused, difference-making Michael Beasley. Just like it was drawn up.

"To see the steps that he has been making," Hunter said after practice yesterday. "It's great to see him smile again. Really going at it at practice has been even a surprise for us. He's been down, and it's nice to see."

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