When Yahoo! Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski first tweeted that the Miami Heat were considering reuniting with the No. 2 pick in the 2008 NBA Draft, many local sportswriters dismissed the report. On a surface level, the local guys had logic on their side -- teams like the Minnesota Timberwolves and Phoenix Suns passed on the troubled 24-year-old, Miami traded him away three years ago after a bumpy two-year marriage, and he doesn't seem to have a speciality like other Heat role players do, whether rebounding or shooting. (As an aside, I don't fault Beasley for his marijuana use. The drug is far less dangerous than alcohol, and no one says that Udonis Haslem is lazy because he was arrested in 2010 when a police officer found cannabis in his car).
But no one should have reacted with surprise when the Heat officially signed Beasley to a non-guaranteed contract yesterday.
As I've said many times before, the Heat's position in the NBA's punitive luxury tax leaves the team with few options to add players. It's why the Heat amnestied Mike Miller and have not used the mini mid-level exception it used previously on Shane Battier and Ray Allen. It's also why Miami has taken low-cost risks for the last couple years -- Eddy Curry, Chris Andersen and Greg Oden to name just a few. This signing -- which doesn't even assure that Beasley will have a spot on the roster by opening night -- simply stands as another example of Pat Riley's reality.
The Heat already have 13 guaranteed roster spots and a largely set rotation. The 14th or 15th man on a team has a negligible impact on the team's success -- how much did Juwan Howard contribute to the Heat's championship last year? What about Curry the year before? Why not use one of the last roster spots on a player who has some real potential and whose entire NBA future depends on this one job? Motivation shouldn't stand as an issue with Beasley, with his NBA career in a very tenuous position. Moreover, a high-character team like the Heat or Spurs would get the most out of Beasley. As the New York Times columnist David Brooks said recently, "[T]he brain is a malleable organ. Every time you do an activity, or have a thought, you are changing a piece of yourself into something slightly different than it was before. Every hour you spend with others, you become more like the people around you."
I don't envision Beasley having a large role with the Heat this year -- Shane Battier and probably Haslem will get minutes over him simply because they satisfy niches for the team. He'll have to improve his rebounding skills, remember the defensive principles he learned in Miami and generally bring a positive attitude. In a best-case scenario, he'd lead the bench unit for the 2014-15 year. Ray Allen and Battier will likely retire after this year, and Haslem will only continue to regress as a basketball player. Even if the Heat manage to keep the Big Three intact, Riley will have to rebuild his team's supporting cast. This move could pay huge dividends if things go smoothly, more or less.
And what happens if things don't go smoothly, if Beasley's career doesn't appear salvageable? The Heat can simply cut him, similar to what the Spurs did to Stephen Jackson last year. No one should fault Riley for this move because he has to take risks to keep the team in contention. Some of those risks have paid off (Andersen) and others have not (Curry). But the reality of having an $80 million payroll simply necessitates it.