It was supposed to be a warm welcome back for Los Angeles Lakers point guard Steve Nash to the U.S. Airways Center, a place where he played 10 seasons with the Phoenix Suns. Instead, Suns forward Michael Beasley played the role of homecoming spoiler by dropping 27 points on 12-of-20 shooting, six rebounds and five steals off the bench to hand the Lakers a 92-86 loss—their eighth straight road loss.
Amid the pomp and circumstance of Nash’s return, the Suns had to whittle down a 13-point deficit with 10 minutes to go in the final quarter. A 19-6 run that included clutch baskets by Beasley would be the Lakers’ demise.
A video montage of Nash was displayed in the first quarter, which was met by a salvo of cheers. The 38-year-old point guard couldn’t have asked for a better reception, but a win would’ve made it even better.
Furthermore, Nash was only able to finish with 11 points on 3-of-8 shooting. The typically efficient Nash only went 1-for-4 from beyond the arc.
Meanwhile, it was Beasley who showed us that he can be the productive player that he’s capable of, but with a caveat—only when he wants to be.
The 24-year-old Beasley, taken second overall in the 2008 NBA Draft, is settling in with his third NBA team in his five-year career. The three-year, $18 million contract he signed with the Suns in the 2012 offseason has yet to bear fruit.
Beasley was initially brought in to help counterbalance Nash’s departure to the Lakers. Thus far this season, Beasley is averaging career-lows in points and rebounds per game. Former head coach Alvin Gentry demoted Beasley to bench duty in early December after a sluggish start.
The Suns knew that Beasley carried the proverbial off-court baggage. During two-year stints with Miami and Minnesota, Beasley had his fair share of run-ins with the law. For example, in 2011, he was ticketed for possession of marijuana and speeding in the Minneapolis suburb of Minnetonka.
Then there are the on-court deficiencies in Beasley’s game—lack of hustle, the unwillingness to play defense and subpar rebounding given his size and athleticism—an overall lackadaisical attitude towards effort-oriented tasks.
While it’s easy to point out Beasley’s hardcourt hardheadedness, on nights like this, he shows he’s still capable of basketball brilliance. Beasley’s 27 points eclipsed a previous season-high of 25 on Saturday against the San Antonio Spurs.
Since Suns head coach Lindsey Hunter supplanted the ousted Alvin Gentry on January 18, Beasley has been averaging 18.2 points per game. It’s proof that the offensive giant can be awakened in Beasley, it’s just that it wants to hit the snooze button more often than not when it’s time to get up for games.
"I'm trying to turn over a new leaf,” said Beasley following the win. “No more nonchalant 'Beaz.' Back to being the beast."
Beasley’s ability to sustain his recent performances will be a wait-and-see affair as the second half of the season progresses. If not, the trade rumor birds will be circling as the February 21 trade deadline looms.
It will be up to Beasley to prove whether he’s a player that can put a franchise on his back or one that a franchise would like off theirs.