The Phoenix Suns responses to Michael Beasley's transgressions began last year with loud support and vigorous defense.
Now, there is just silence.
When Beasley was signed last summer, former GM Lance Blanks and current PBO Lon Babby spoke in glowing terms of Beasley's potential and how much support he would receive after joining the Suns fold. They brought along a mentor who'd helped Beasley before (Norm Nixon) and promised to give him every chance to succeed.
When Beasley was pulled over two months into the season for speeding in the middle of the night down Scottsdale Road, the Suns responded quickly with a statement (check the StoryStream on the right) and 100% support of their new forward.
When Beasley was reportedly investigated three months ago for sexual assault, the Suns (now sans Beasley's champion Lance Blanks) did not hold a press conference to ask for patience with the troubled star. They said they needed to investigate the facts, and spoke cautiously of his skillset.
Now, when Beasley got himself arrested earlier this month, there is only silence. This time, when pulled over for a routine traffic stop because he was speeding down Scottsdale Road, the cops found pot and arrested him. This time, the Suns did not respond. No statement. No interviews. Three weeks later, still nothing.
This is not a good sign for Mr. Michael Beasley.
The scene is all too familiar for SuperCool Beas, who has burned bridges with two prior teams for these same types of transgressions and runs the risk of doing it a third time right now. The difference between the Suns and the HEAT or Timberwolves is that (a) the Suns have committed a lot more guaranteed salary to Beasley and (b) the Suns just might be his last, best hope.
If the Suns release Beasley, there's no telling what will happen to the young man personally or professionally. Maybe he will turn his life around, maybe he won't. Odds lean to the latter.
The question is not whether the Suns think Beasley has the talent to become an NBA star. The question is just how paternal the Suns feel toward saving a life in the balance.
If the Suns release Beasley sometime in the next week, they would stretch out his payments evenly over the next FIVE years (twice the years remaining on the contract, plus 1). For Beasley, that would be $1.8 million per year.
If they do this to spread out the financial hit, they still have the ability to absorb the whole CAP hit in two seasons while they rebuild ($6 million this year, $3 million next year), freeing money in future years when it's time to spend again.
The only reason to take this option is if the Suns really need to cap room right now. They already have 16 players under contract for 2013-14 season, though Channing Frye might not play and Malcolm Lee might be unavailable as well.
The only reason to release Beasley in the next week is if McDonough can pull another Bledsoe trade out of thin air. If he can acquire a young, up and coming player in the next 7 days while absorbing a bigger contract, then it might be worth releasing Beasley now. But even then, Beasley's hit drops by just $4.2 million, meaning the Suns could not take more than an additional $4.2 million in such a trade.
Short of this kind of deal, I see no reason to release Beasley now. Releasing him now keeps $1.8 million on the books for the next 5 years, when the Suns might just need the cap room at some point in the coming years.
If the Suns want to eat most of the salary paid to Beasley this season, in order to clear the books in the near future, they could decide to release Beasley on or after September 1.
In such a move, Robert Sarver would pay Beasley his full salary this season ($6 million), with the final $3 million being stretched over 3 subsequent seasons ($1 million per year).
Again, the Suns still have the option of absorbing the whole CAP hit over the next two seasons, even though some of the cash is being paid for years beyond.
This option, to me, is the best option overall. Waiting until after September 1 clears the most money the soonest. The Suns cap is already in good shape for the season with 16 guys under contract. The Suns don't need the cap room this year, unless there's an opportunity to do another Bledsoe trade as mentioned above.
It's human nature to want to mentor Beasley and save him from himself.
As Jeff Caplan reports in an NBA.com article, new Suns forward Caron Butler sees how tenuous Beasley's situation really is.
"I think there's a lot that can be done to help him and I think one is, and this is not from the organization or anything, but it's just for the people who are around him and love him most, is just don't give up on him, try to help him as much as possible, build him up because he's a star," Butler told NBA.com during a phone interview from his new home in Phoenix.
"He's a guy that had an unbelievable collegiate career, who came into the NBA as a top-two pick, so the talent is there, it hasn't gone anywhere. It's like clay, it just needs to be molded right. Somebody needs to be around him, talking to him and telling him the right things and building him up and keeping nothing but positive energy around him and moving him forward instead of pulling him back."
The Suns tried the hands-on approach last season to disastrous effect, while former teams have done the same with similar failure.
"For me, with Bease, it's even more heartfelt, because his locker was by mine for so many years," Heat forward Udonis Haslem said this past week when informed of Beasley's latest incident. "And I tried to be as much of a mentor and just guide him in the right direction as much as I could. You know, it's unfortunate and I just wish him the best."
Despite losing his starting role to a still-unproven Beasley in 2009-10, Haslem has remained close to the troubled forward.
"I thought he was past this," Haslem said before a promotional appearance in Boca Raton, "and hopefully it's a bump in the road and he'll continue to move forward and try to get better. I'm looking forward to try to reach out to him in the next couple of days."
"It hurts me, it does," Mourning said from the symposium in New Jersey. "I still look at him as part of this NBA fraternity and a brother. And when something happens to one of us, it's a reflection on all of us, past and present. So there's a disappointment there from that perspective. "Some people get it sooner than others. When I say, 'get it,' I mean the information and support. I can't tell you the conversations I have with young people on a regular basis, in hopes they get it sooner than later."
This list of "mentors" is growing by the year. Mourning. Haslem. Jermaine O'Neal, with the Suns. And now Butler wants a crack at him.
But the Suns have to decide what impact that will have on the rest of the team.
If Channing Frye returns next season, there is a real logjam at the PF position where Beasley would be most effective in the NBA. But if Frye doesn't return, then the Suns could use Beasley as an offensive threat off the bench.
In the locker room and practice, Beasley is not a bad guy. He just has really bad habits that young players could emulate, which could stunt their growth. That's already happened with Marshall and Morrii, who saw the Suns enabling Beasley's behavior for too long.
Still, Caron Butler wants to throw his hat in the ring to help save Beasley. And the Suns have to pay a salary regardless.
It's quite possible we will see Beasley in the new Suns uniform after all.