Lindsey Hunter, Michael Beasley

Michael Beasley, after missing 11 of 13 shots in loss to Dallas: ‘I shot the ball great tonight.’ He was serious.

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PHOENIX — When the Suns signed Michael Beasley as a free agent last summer, they had high hopes that by immersing him in their offense-first system, he’d turn out to be the team’s main scoring threat on a very consistent basis.

It hasn’t exactly worked out that way for Beasley in his first season in Phoenix. He was anointed as “the man” by Alvin Gentry and the previous coaching regime before he was able to meet those expectations on the court, and since he found himself essentially out of the rotation for extended stretches after being unable to live up to that moniker, he’s been struggling with consistency, in terms of both minutes and production.

Under new head coach Lindsey Hunter, however, the directive has changed. Instead of solely coaching to win games on a nightly basis, Hunter is tasked with developing the younger players on the roster, and that includes Beasley. He’ll get his minutes and his chances, but he remains the same inconsistent player he’s been to this point in his five-year NBA career.

Friday night, during the Suns’ loss to the Mavericks, Beasley regressed once again. After dominating and pouring in 27 points while leading his team to a comeback win over the Lakers on Wednesday, Beasley managed just four points on 2-of-13 shooting, with a team-high three turnovers in 28 minutes of action.

The problem isn’t Beasley’s overall inconsistency, which seems to be more in the player’s head than anywhere else. No, the problem is the way that Suns management — and to some extent, their interim head coach — is treating Beasley with kid gloves.

“I just think he was just a little off,” Hunter said after Friday’s loss to Dallas. “I don’t know if he was so hyped or so ready that he just got himself off a little bit, but I’m not worried about him. I’ll take what he did tonight, the shots, I’ll take all of it. I’m looking long-term with Mike, and as long as I see progress with Mike, I’m happy.”

There hasn’t been any progress, at least not any visible to the naked eye.

Beasley is still hesitant at times offensively, even after Hunter has given him the greenest light possible. Before the game on Friday, Hunter explained how Beasley has been instructed not to worry about passing, and just to attack and shoot when he gets the ball in a position to score.

And still, 2-of-13 shooting.

“Some days you can come and play and do everything right, and the ball will not go in for some strange reason,” Hunter said. “And other days you can come and feel like it’s not your day and you can’t miss. That’s the way basketball is. It’s a humbling sport. But you stay even keel, and you put the work in. And if you put the work in, more times than not you’ll be alright.”

The Suns brain trust — president of basketball operations Lon Babby and team GM Lance Blanks — are clearly not ready to give up on Beasley just yet, nor should they. Every opportunity should be given to the players brought in by senior management to succeed. But it shouldn’t be done in a vacuum and with blinders on, and that seems to be some of what is going on with Beasley in Phoenix.

Simply put, the amount of positive reinforcement heaped upon Beasley — even after one of his more dismal performances — seems to be borderline delusional.

“I thought I had a good game, the shots just didn’t fall,” Beasley said, after a performance where he missed 11 of his 13 shot attempts, and led the team with three turnovers, two of which came while attempting to inbound the ball on the baseline after the other team had just scored.

When Beasley was asked what the difference was tonight after putting in such a solid game in Wednesday’s win over the Lakers, he refused to even acknowledge that he took a step back.

“I shot the ball great. I shot the ball great tonight,” he said. “I got shots I wanted, the ball just didn’t fall. That’s it.”

Unfortunately, that’s not it.

Beasley was completely serious when he said “he shot the ball great,” which is the true sign that the team is telling him what he wants to hear in hopes that keeping things positive will help him gain some measure of consistency. It hasn’t thus far, so there’s no reason to think that’s the way to continue to go in the future.

When Beasley was subbed out for the final time on Friday midway through the fourth quarter, he was the only player huddled away from the bench with the entire Suns coaching staff. When asked what was said during that brief meeting, Hunter said it was simply a discussion of reassurance.

“I was just encouraging him, telling him ‘Hey, it’s OK.’ It’s part of the process,” Hunter said. ‘Hopefully one day we’ll be playing for a bigger picture than this, and we’ll be able to look back on this and kind of say wow, it was tough then, but this is the fruit of [that effort].”

The way the Suns are treating Beasley is reminiscent of a classic Twilight Zone episode, where the town folk are all scared of a little boy who can wish destructive things on people with his mind. They all placate him by being overly-enthusiastic while reassuring him that whatever he does, no matter how wrong, that it’s “good,” or “a real good thing.”

This is how the Suns approach Beasley’s dismal performances. And like that episode of the Twilight Zone, things are going to end badly in Phoenix if the team doesn’t change its course of action where Beasley is concerned.

Other All-Stars pay tribute to Kobe Bryant’s legacy

Western Conference's Kobe Bryant, of the Los Angeles Lakers, takes part in practice at the NBA All-Star Game in Toronto on Saturday, Feb. 13, 2016. (Chris Young/The Canadian Press via AP) MANDATORY CREDIT
Chris Young/The Canadian Press via AP
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TORONTO — This is Kobe Bryant‘s weekend.

In what will be his final All-Star Game, he has been an absolute rock star in Toronto — huge ovations, huge crowds (of fans and media), and cameras trained on him everywhere he goes. The weekend has been a celebration of one of the game’s all-time greats and a storied career.

Over the course of the weekend, nearly every other All-Star has been asked about Kobe and the impact he’s had both on the game and on the players, personally. For many of them, this is personal, the younger NBA players grew up idolizing him. Here are a sampling of their responses.

James Harden (Houston Rockets):
“He’s been my idol growing up, my basketball idol. Like I said, just watching him play meant everything to me. So this is his last year, and he’s going to retire, and there’s going to be no more Kobe Bryant playing basketball, it’s kind of sad. It’s kind of sad about that, but at some point he had to go.”

Kyle Lowry (Toronto Raptors):
“He’s the Michael Jordan of our era. He’s the most competitive player we’ve played against, and the thing he’s done throughout his career and the things he’s done to change the game, to motivate the players is unbelievable.”

Chris Bosh (Miami Heat):
“Kobe, this is his weekend. I know he probably would never say that or admit that, but, yeah, he’s one of the iconic players of this — greatest iconic players this league has ever had. He’s had such an imprint on our childhood. I know he had an imprint on my childhood. And then I was in that mix where I was a kid, and then I was trying to figure it out in the NBA, and next thing you know you’re competing against him. So, it’s been crazy.”

DeMar DeRozan (Toronto Raptors):
“I grew up watching the Lakers. I grew up watching him his whole career and getting a chance to have a relationship with him and kind of, you know, patterned my game after him so to speak, so definitely speaks volumes.”

Russell Westbrook (Oklahoma City Thunder):
“Me growing up in Los Angeles and being able to see Kobe, obviously he’s one of the greatest players to play the game. It was a true honor to be able to learn from him. It’s a great experience to be able to learn different things from him, not just on the floor but off the floor as well and very different experiences.”

Tyrone Lue (Coach, Cleveland Cavaliers):
“When I first got there (playing for the Lakers) he was still young. He was Kobe, but he hadn’t been a starter yet. And that third year of his career, that was my first year, Rick Fox went down, and he stepped in and took a starting role. But just seeing the film he watched all the time, the players he was talking about, the Oscar Robertsons, Michael Jordans, the Magics, he knew from day one who he wanted to be like. He knew that to be the best, you had to work hard. That’s what he did every single day. Not one day did I see him take off.”

Paul George (Indiana Pacers):
“He was just fearless. He’s a champion. To get to where you want to get to, you have to put the work in. His work ethic is one thing that he has. That’s the reason why he’s so great.”

Paul Millsap (Atlanta Hawks):
“The only thing I can remember is him always beating us when I was at Utah in the playoffs. We always had to try to overcome the Lakers and Kobe Bryant and just could never do it.”

John Wall (Washington Wizards):
“Basically, the Michael Jordan of our era is what I see with all of his dedication to the game, his competitive drive. He’s one of those guys that always wants the ball in a tough situation. No matter the circumstances, he believes in himself, no matter what.”

Aaron Gordon (Orlando Magic):
“I watched Kobe growing up and watched him in the All-Star Game. The impact he’s had on my basketball game and in my life and so many other people, it’s really big. It’s astronomical. That’s Kobe. That’s the man.”

Draymond Green (Golden State Warriors):
“He’s meant so much to the game. Growing up in the era that I did, Kobe was that guy. So to play in an All-Star Game with him, I mean, that’s special. I grew up a Kobe fan, so it’s something that’s really special.”

C.J. McCollum (Portland Trail Blazers):
“He’s had a huge impact (on me). Obviously for us, he was the Michael Jordan of our era, a guy we watched. He emulated Michael. He had a lot of the same fadeaways, sticking out his tongue, winning championships. Just a sense of self to understand exactly what it takes to be successful. So for us, he was a guy I looked up to. His work ethic, his understanding and he knew how to bounce back from losses and shooting air balls in the playoffs as a rookie to hitting game winners.”

Watch it again: Epic dunk contest duel between Zach LaVine, Aaron Gordon

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TORONTO — I am always hesitant to say a player/team/situation is one of the best of ever because the history of the NBA is filled with greats. We tend to overstate how good something current can be.  That said…

That was one of the best dunk contests ever.

Zach LaVine and Aaron Gordon put on a show for the ages. Gordon had the best dunks of the night (in my opinion), but LaVine is consistently amazing, every dunk he does is flat out ridiculous.

Officially, LaVine won. In reality, we all won. Enjoy watching it one more time.

Aaron Gordon both legs over the mascot, ball-under-the-legs dunk (VIDEO)

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TORONTO — Zach LaVine won the NBA All-Star Saturday Dunk Contest, but in an epic night for my money this was the single best dunk.

Orlando’s Aaron Gordon broke ground with this one — guys have jumped over mascots and other players before (and a Kia hood), but by splitting their legs apart. Gordon just put both legs over Stuff (that’s the mascot’s name, Stuff the Magic Dragon, I don’t make this up) — and took the ball off the mascot’s head, went under his legs, and threw it down.

Insane.

Gordon deserved a trophy for his performance in this dunk contest.

Zach LaVine edges Aaron Gordon in epic, insane Dunk Contest

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TORONTO — That. Was. Amazing.

In a dunk contest that will go down with the all-time greats — Jordan vs. Dominique, Dr. J from the free throw line — Minnesota’s Zach LaVine defended his dunk contest title. Barely. Because Orlando’s Aaron Gordon was doing dunks nobody had ever seen before.

And LaVine was bringing it just as hard.

The two men advanced to the finals — dismissing Will Barton and Andre Drummond, each of whom had good dunks — and that was when it got wild.

There were four second-round dunks, and four perfect scores of 50. (That was in spite of Shaq, who wanted to give nines for second attempts.)

“I was prepared for four (second round dunks),” LaVine said. “To tell the truth, he came with something that no one else has done. He did two dunks that were just crazy with the mascots, jumping over them. We just kept pushing each other until the last dunk. I’ve got to give it up to my boy Will “The Thrill” Barton. It’s because of him I think I won. Because he said try to go from the free-throw line. I’d never done that before, and I just tried it. So I guess it was a great dunk. I think it was the best one ever.”

The Air Canada Centre crowd was exploding with every dunk. The two men went to a dunk-off — and got two more 50s.

“If I knew it was going to be like that, I would have prepared better and we would have been here dunking all night, going back 50 after 50 after 50 after 50,” Gordon said. “We would have been here all night. I didn’t know it was going to be like that. I was just hoping Zach was going to miss, and it wasn’t going to happen. You could see as my facial expressions when Zach dunks it, it’s like okay, that’s a 50. Like I know we’re going to have to dunk again.”

So they went to a second-round of overtime, where LaVine put up another 50 and won the contest.

Gordon was close to perfect.

Zach LaVine can flat-out fly.