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Is it the haircut? "No."

Was it the hand injury, from early in the season, finally healing? "No. Still hurts."

Was it a bad relationship with Alvin Gentry? "No. Alvin's relationship has been great."

Is Hunter bringing out his talents? Truth be told, Beasley's turnaround began three games before Gentry left the team.

What is it then? "I don't know."

None of us really do. But it may have something to do with getting older, looking in the mirror and realizing you're letting time slip away.

Michael Beasley's lowest point of the season, possibly his career, came as he turned 24 years old.

Michael Beasley turned 24 on January 9, 2013. On that night against Boston, he played only 5 minutes (1-for-2 from the field). It was his fourth of five straight games playing fewer than 10 minutes.

Playing ANY game under 10 minutes had happened only 6 other times in his first 4.5 seasons in the NBA - four with Minnesota, two with Miami.

So a stretch of five straight under-10-minute games may have been Beasley's wake-up call.

His career had started out so promising, from dominating college ball to starting for two years at power forward on a playoff-caliber team in Miami. But then off-court issues derailed his focus and the honeymoon period was abruptly over.

Miami shipped Beasley to lowly Minnesota for a bag of Doritos to make room for LeBron James and co. and Beasley never really recovered his game. He was slotted at the small forward position and became a jump shooter who took low-efficiency shots and did little else on the court. Eventually, he was let go as a free agent.

The Suns signed him to try to revive his career and have put a lot of time and effort into his development as a basketball player. Suns GM Lance Blanks staked his reputation on Beasley's success by giving him a three-year contract before the rest of the league even had a chance to blink. Blanks has developed a close relationship with Beasley, as did everyone else.

"From Lon [Babby] to Lance to boss man [Robert Saver] to Alvin [Gentry], everyone's been great," Beasley said when asked about his relationship with the team and front office.

Beasley mentioned Lindsey Hunter's efforts as well, referring to him as a friend off the court all season who would work him out night and day and join him for meals a couple times a week.

Asked specifically if his relationship with Alvin Gentry was strained, Beasley scoffed. "No," he said. "Alvin's relationship has been great. We were friends."

The support has definitely been there, but his play went into the tank. His production was poor, his plus/minus was worst in the NBA (points differential when on the court vs. off the court) and his minutes dwindled.

But the something happened.

Three games BEFORE Alvin Gentry left the Suns, Michael Beasley began to break out of his slump. He played well in his first minutes against Chicago and stayed in the game, making 10 of 14 shots and finished with 20 points and 6 rebounds in 20 minutes of playing time. He followed that up with 14 and 11 against OKC in 25 minutes.

But the Suns lost those games just like most of the others that preceded them, finishing a bad road trip with a 13-27 record and no light at the end of the tunnel.

At that point, Alvin Gentry announced that the Suns were going to play their young guys more minutes, but only gave Beasley 15 minutes and left the rest of the kids on the bench while the Suns lost to Milwaukee at home. The mood in the press room and locker room was as low as it's ever been.

Gentry was out, Hunter was in.

Since Hunter took over, Michael Beasley's distribution of minutes has been remarkably consistent despite Beasley's production being up and down from game to game. He got 22, 22, 22 and 19 minutes before breaking out against Los Angeles and being rewarded with 34 game-changing minutes.

"Lindsey's definitely letting me play more," Beasley said. "Even after bad shots."

Against the Lakers, Beasley started on a rough note with 2 unforced turnovers and a blocked layup attempt before he could even break a sweat. But Hunter left him out there and Beasley turned in his best game of the season.

"My biggest thing with guys," Hunter said. "Don't look to the bench. If you make a mistake, so what. 'I took a bad shot.' So what? You're going to take more of them. Let's get a stop."

This sounds a lot like Goran Dragic's rookie season when Alvin Gentry took over midseason from Terry Porter and told Dragic to stop looking at the bench every time he made a mistake. Dragic blossomed after that and still credits Gentry for his development.

Now the same may be happening with Beasley.

He said he's been "waiting for this opportunity all season. Just playing with it. Definitely a different confidence level than when you're playing not to mess up. More risks, more rewards."

I am sure that Alvin Gentry, like Terry Porter before him, would say they gave plenty of opportunities to their young guys but that the kids didn't step up. And I am also sure that Beasley and Dragic would agree.

But when a new guy takes over and says they love you the way you are, warts and all, sometimes that lightens the burden and allows you to excel.

This may be fools gold. I am sure prior coaches - Pat Riley and Rick Adelman - thought they'd gotten through to Beasley many times, only to see him fade away again.

But at least for now, the Suns get to reap the rewards of a focused, difference-making Michael Beasley. Just like it was drawn up.

"To see the steps that he has been making," Hunter said after practice yesterday. "It's great to see him smile again. Really going at it at practice has been even a surprise for us. He's been down, and it's nice to see."

***


Josh Smith of the Atlanta Hawks is a target of the Phoenix Suns, according to HoopsWorld.com’s Alex Kennedy. He reports that Phoenix is looking into acquiring the versatile forward before the...

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PHOENIX – Suns forward Michael Beasley is a noticeably new man since Lindsey Hunter’s appointment as interim head coach. Whether that is just coincidence could be hard to prove without any...

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Josh Smith interests the Phoenix Suns, and HoopsWorld.com's Alex Kennedy reports that the team in desperate need of a franchise player will make a run at the Atlanta Hawks power forward if not before the trade deadline then this offseason.

Phoenix considers Smith a cornerstone type of player, according to Kennedy.

Smith's contract ends following this season, and his status with Atlanta has been up in the air. While the versatile forward has not demanded a trade, his agent, Wallace Prather, has been in contact with General Manager Danny Ferry regarding his clients' future. They are expected to meet again this week.

The Suns have cap space as is, and they'll have even more with several players coming off the books following the 2012-13 season. That said, any trade for Smith would have to appease Atlanta, and Phoenix is limited in its assets. Center Marcin Gortat is one player that has substantial value, and the Suns also have expiring contracts in win Wesley Johnson, backup point guard Sebastian Telfair and a partially guaranteed deal with Shannon Brown for next season.

Phoenix signed restricted free agent Eric Gordon to an offer sheet this summer before the New Orleans Hornets matched the deal. That and the Rudy Gay trade not involving Phoenix means the Suns could have room to sign another max-level deal with a player along with Smith.

UPDATE (Feb 1, 2013):

For whatever it's worth, Arizona Sports John Gambadoro says that this report is false:

@alexkennedynba @ryguyaz I triple checked it, Suns have NO interest in Josh Smith. And have never even had a conversation with ATL about him

— John Gambadoro (@Gambo620) February 1, 2013

Kennedy stands by his story:

@ryguyaz @gambo620 I stand by what I wrote. I wouldn't have written the article if I didn't have multiple sources saying the same thing.

— Alex Kennedy (@AlexKennedyNBA) February 1, 2013

Personally, Robert Saver could go on national TV and swear that this rumor was false and it wouldn't mean the Suns don't end up getting (or trying to get) Josh Smith. At the same time, there certainly could be parties outside of Phoenix interested in driving up the perception that Smith is in demand.

They call it the rumor GAME for a reason. Everyone has an agenda. Trust no one (except me -- always trust me).

***


20130130_mjr_su5_170

Right now the Phoenix Suns (16-30) are 3-2 under Interim Head Coach Lindsey Hunter. All three wins have come against divisional opponents, two on National TV, and the team is moving in the right direction today.

What did they do?

The simplification of the offense and the defense has been the catalyst to the play of the team. Today they went in with the mentality to play hard, but with a game tomorrow after a game last night it was a shorter practice that was very intense.

Right now the players are buying into the new system with the stripped down offense.

"Simplifying the offense," is a broad term, but it basically means that elements of the offense are being removed so that way players are not overthinking situations and reacting to what they see on the court. That is what happened last night when Michael Beasley took over the game late and looked great in doing so.

They go into the game against the Dallas Mavericks tomorrow night at home before hitting the road for five straight games, but played them earlier this week so familiarity is there under the Lindsey Hunter regime. There may not be a clear advantage, but after breaking down game tape from last nights win and the previous Dallas loss the gameplan may unfold differently.

"I don't know," Hunter on any advantage in the Dallas game. "Hopefully it gives us an advantage. I guess if we win it gives an advantage and if we don't it gives them an advantage."

They are trying to keep an "edge" about them through practice and working hard in practice. That is showing up in games, at least in three of them, and there are building blocks to build off of with the play of Michael Beasley and the teams overall defense.

Injury Updates?

Marcin Gortat -- Food poisoning limited Gortat in practice to where he came in, tried, and then left after getting treatment. He is day-to-day with that.

Goran Dragic -- Ice on knees at the end of practice was a cautionary because Dragic has taken some hits throughout the season. Kendall Marshall received some run with the first team. He is not expected to miss any action.

Jermaine O'Neal -- The medication has worked and O'Neal has been cleared to practice by doctors, day-to-day officially, but will try to play Saturday. If not on Tuesday of next week. He is day-to-day.

Coach Hunters Simplifying Things:

Take some things away that may have been bit complicated to do in situations and defensively breaking it down to the bare minimum and building from there. Getting our guys to a point to where they do not have to think about it. It is automatic and you know exactly what to do in every situation and that is where we want it to be, instinctive. Not where they have to think about stuff "do I go left or do I go right," it is not "do I go," but "when do I go."

More Coach Hunter:

My biggest thing with guys is "don't look to the bench." Offensively, don't look over here. Now defensively we may need you to look over here to help you out with something, but offensively if you make a mistake, so what. Let's go get a stop. I've drilled that home to Mike, don't look over here, play. If you take a bad shot, who cares? You are probably going to take a lot more, so let's get back on defense and keep playing through it.

Jared Dudley on Recent Wins:

You know what, when the cameras are on I think people play a different way. I definitely think we play a little harder than in general, more to prove. I think the Lakers, anytime you see a National Televised game there is usually a better atmosphere in the gym, better crowd, better emotion, and I think most pros are used to that going to college and high school. Playing in empty arenas I think sometimes you can play with a lull and last night we had a good crown, glad we could get the win for them.

The 2013 NBA Draft Update (Changing It Up)

As of today the team is slotted in the 7th spot and the 13th spot in the draft if it were to happen today. The 13th pick comes via the Los Angeles Lakers who are playing sub-playoff quality basketball hence the swap of the pick.

Here are the players they are taking in the current Mock Draft (The Mock does not reflect current standings:

Prospects to consider: Cody Zeller, Nerlens Noel, and Anthony Bennett

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