In a week, the Phoenix Suns have gone from a "sure, they're going to entertain; give 'em a chance"-styled upstart to a disappointing batch of coconuts that has lost five straight in a run that seems more in line with the pessimistic win totals they were expected to rack up before 2012-13. Worse, in ways that Eric Freeman went over earlier on Friday, the Suns aren't all that fun to watch anymore. Over the course of a week they've just about destroyed most of the goodwill that came from our initial interest in this plucky team featuring two entertaining big men, an up-tempo offense, and a cast of goofballs.
On the heels of the team's "Guaranteed Entertainment" night that ranked as one of the least-entertaining games of the NBA week — nationally televised or otherwise — the always tactful Suns owner Robert Sarver decided to have a post-game meeting with his coach after being embarrassed on a TNT broadcast. A performance that possibly served as the newest career-low, more in terms of aesthetics than actual production, for Suns free agent prize Michael Beasley.
AZ Central's Paul Coro, as is usually the case, is our go-to source:
Once the Suns' 97-94 home loss to Dallas was over, Coach Alvin Gentry was asked if it was time to move Beasley to the bench.
"More than likely," Gentry said.
Could he do it for Saturday's game at the Los Angeles Clippers?
"Could possibly be," Gentry said.
And then Gentry went into a closed-door meeting with Suns staff and Managing Partner Robert Sarver after five consecutive losses. The problem with the timing to demote Beasley now is Thursday night's injury to P.J. Tucker. He was a candidate to replace Beasley at starting small forward but sprained the MCL in his right knee and did not return to the game. More on Tucker's availability will be learned today.
If you're scoring at home, this marks Beasley's sixth week as a Sun. And it's already time to hand his position over to someone few in the TNT audience have ever heard of (P.J. Tucker), or veteran Jared Dudley.
And you'd feel bad for the guy until you see him pull up for the same sort of jump shot that we've been begging him to stop taking since his first fall months as a member of the Miami Heat in late 2008. That long two-pointer, a shot precious few in NBA history (much less recent times) have hit with enough regularity for it to be considered a consistent, franchise-carrying or even helping, go-to weapon.
Signing the 23-year old to a three-year deal for around the NBA minimum as the Suns did during the offseason, in a vacuum, doesn't seem like the worst idea. If you have average expectations for the second pick in the 2008 NBA draft, then you're not shifting the balance of a franchise or hamstringing your payroll flexibility too terribly. Especially when, in the absence of an obvious star to sign in full (guard Eric Gordon's contract was matched by New Orleans) or high lottery pick to groom (Kendall Marshall is nice, but he was the top pick of a middling team last June), you sort of need someone to sop up shots and minutes while you rebuild. Michael has certainly done that, to the tune of 11.4 points in over 27 minutes a game.
Still, because Beasley can't hit three-pointers despite his personal reputation as a shooter, and rarely gets to the line (just 2.7 times for every 36 minutes he plays, an astoundingly-poor number for someone showcased as a scorer who doesn't have to do anything else), Beas needs 12.2 shots per game to score those 11.4 points. If Michael were an NBA team, he'd average 93.4 points per 100 possessions — a mark that would far and away rank as the worst in the NBA. Washington is last at 97.1 per 100.
The problem is that teams have full rosters which include defensive stoppers. They have burly rebounders who use up possessions by not scoring, pass-first point guards, and rookies that are still learning. They're not made up of 15 out-and-out scorers who are asked to do nothing but put the ball in the hoop. That's what Beasley is asked to do, just score with some modicum of efficiency while we wait until 2015 comes around, and he's failing miserably.
It's been noted in several other outlets that Beasley's passing has improved quite a bit, he's doubled the amount of possessions he uses that end in an assist, but he's also forcing tons of passes. As a result, his turnover rate has shot way up — far too high for any small forward, and especially far too high for a player that rarely drives and mostly takes low-risk long jump shots.
Beasley's reaction to all of this is to share his frustration, which is understandable, and to point to the fact (and we believe the guy) that he's putting in his work away from the televised contests.
"I don't know what it is," Beasley said of his struggles. "I come in every game optimistic about my play and my shots. It's just not good right now and it's not what anybody's doing. It's all me. I'm getting extra shots. I'm getting extra shots on top of extra shots. I've just got to be patient. Let the game come to me. Just sort of ride it out.
"Of course I'm frustrated because I visualize myself as something I'm not right now. Not to say I can't be. As of right now, I'm not playing as well as I want to play or can play or as well as the team needs. Yeah, I'm frustrated but like I said just got to continue to do what I'm doing, work hard and ride it out."
When Michael talks about "getting extra shots," he's referencing the ones he takes post-practice, and in games. Good for him, getting those practice Js in.
Bad for him, shooting the same terrible 20-footer over and over again both in practice and in games. A shot that only perhaps a half-dozen players should be taken more than once or twice a game. At some point, practicing 500 half-court shots a day might be more of an effective tool. At least you get three points for that one.
Robert Sarver, basketball know-all (Getty Images)The options are obvious — start Tucker when he's healthy, or go with a pro's pro in Jared Dudley. Jared, who the Suns have played more often at shooting guard this season and last, can spread the floor with his exemplary career mark of 40.9 percent from behind the three-point arc, but he's not the sort of youthful bounder the Suns want to hand minutes to as they prepare for years well past this one. Tucker is a defensive demon, though undersized, that struggles at times on offense — but it's telling that Tucker's overall offensive game has outpaced Beasley this year.
Even with that middling contract, when it's NBA-legal to trade later this year, Beasley will have absolutely no value on the trade market. There are always bum GMs out there that aren't exactly familiar with the idea of production over name recognition, ones that would trade for Beasley for the latter benefit alone — but Beasley's reputation and off-court antics have cost him most signing and certainly all trading partners.
And his on-court antics, as detailed by Coro here, are severely worrying in the light of his most recent fresh start.
Of course, in that last Coro column, Beasley was quoted as saying this:
"I'm frustrated with everything," Beasley said before Thursday's game. "I'm frustrated with my production, with the fact that our record is the way it is. My role is definitely going to be what I make it.
"I'm going to do my part. Starting tonight, it's going to be a whole new Beasley."
Hours later, Beasley turned in a 3-for-12 night from the field.
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