NEW YORK -- For Michael Beasley, rock bottom was easy to find. It was a late summer phone call from the Phoenix Suns, Beasley's former employer, telling Beasley that his services were no longer required. Beasley averaged 10.1 points in 75 games for the Suns in the '12-'13 season. With two years left on his contract, Phoenix agreed to pay him $7 million not to come back for the next one.
For Beasley, the opportunity for redemption came from a familiar voice. It was Pat Riley, who drafted Beasley in 2008 with the No. 2 overall pick, ahead of Russell Westbrook, Kevin Love and Brook Lopez. Two years later Riley traded Beasley to Minnesota for the bargain basement price of a pair of second round picks, a move that freed up the salary space needed to lock LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh to multi-year contracts.
After the Suns cast aside Beasley, it was Riley reaching out to Beasley again, offering Beasley one more chance. Three years, two teams and a handful of brushes with the law later, Miami was willing to welcome Beasley back.
"Honestly, I didn't have a whole lot of time to think about where I would go or what was next," Beasley said. "It was a sign. Pat Riley called. Miami felt like home."
As Miami marches towards a potential fourth straight NBA Finals appearance-- the Heat are 27-9 after Thursday's 102-92 loss to the Knicks -- Beasley looms as a critical piece of the Heat puzzle. As much as Miami is defined by star power, its role players have been critical to the team's success. Chris Andersen's defense. Udonis Haslem's toughness. Ray Allen's shooting. Similarly, the Heat have come to count on Beasley's production off the bench. Beasley is averaging 10.7 points on a career best 52.2 percent shooting. Against New York, Beasley chipped in just 5 points, as the frontcourt for the Heat was thoroughly outplayed by Andrea Barngani and Amar'e Stoudemire.
"To his credit, he has done a great job trying to assimilate into what we are doing," Shane Battier said. "He said 'I don't want to mess [this team] up.' He has shown flashes, and he has really helped us."
Beasley says his game has not changed, "I play the game the same," Beasley said. "No. 2 pick, supporting cast, bust, best player, whatever you want to call me. I'm going to go out and play the way I know how to play basketball," but others see a difference. Perhaps freed from the pressure of being the No. 2 overall pick, Beasley has adapted to a supporting role.
"I think the expectations of having to put up numbers, he doesn't have that here," said Erik Spoelstra. "He just comes in and plays, helps that [second] unit, helps that unit on the scoreboard. Now we are seeing the rebounding and defensive athleticism that we all thought we'd see when he came into the league."
Few players understand Beasley better than Wade, Beasley's teammate for two seasons, who frequently expressed frustration at Beasley's inconsistent play. Sitting in front of his locker on Thursday, Wade smiles at the memory of those seasons, in part because of how maddening a time it was, in part because of the changes he sees in Beasley today.
"One thing I always said about Mike is that he is a great person," Wade told SI.com. "I'm not saying it is perfect that he went through the things that he went through, but to come back to this organization and this team, it's kind of like the perfect marriage. Where he goes from here, no one knows, but for this year, no matter what he does, it will probably be one of the best times of his life."
Beasley's stint in Miami hasn't been perfect either. Wade says Beasley still makes some mistakes, while Spoelstra has set a routine for Beasley to follow, one neither will elaborate on except to call it a "structured plan."
"That's for me and Erik," Beasley said. "It's not for the public. It's not based on anything. It's some things he felt I needed to do, needed to work on."
Said Wade, "We let him know that everyone makes mistakes. We just want him to lessen his mistakes. He's on a championship team. It's different than any team he has ever been on. We have to police him. And he has been doing a good job. He is putting in the work. He's in the gym every day with the coaches. He is trying to learn the system and be comfortable with it because we were going to need him."
Everyone is in lockstep on that. The non-guaranteed contract Beasley signed in September becomes guaranteed on Friday, a strong sign of Miami's commitment. The Heat no longer expect Beasley to become a superstar. Just a role player capable of delivering when called upon. Like Andersen, Miller and Allen before him, Beasley has become a spoke in the wheel. It's a role Beasley may have struggled with years ago, but one he is completely comfortable with now.
"I'm more humble than I used to be," Beasley said. "I'm not taking anything for granted. I realize it can all be gone in the blink of an eye."