Michael Beasley will be on the court for the Miami Heat for the opening tip-off Wednesday night, apparently poised to become a starting forward.
Not long ago, that seemed far from being a sure thing.
The longest offseason of Beasley's young life is finally over, a six-month roller-coaster replete with two infamous Twitter flameouts and a stay at a Houston rehabilitation facility. All behind him, Beasley said, noting that he's been sober since Aug. 6 and vowing that his game will benefit from all the rough patches.
"I think I've worked harder now than I did last year," Beasley said. "Last year, I found myself coasting through sometimes, just going through the motions. This year, I'm a little more hungry."
His oft-discussed troubles include disturbing messages and a conversation-sparking photo in a tattoo establishment posted on his now-closed Twitter feeds, more than a month in rehab, and by his own acknowledgment, membership in the NBA substance-abuse program.
"All behind me," Beasley said.
But his rookie season was still promising: He averaged 13.9 points in 81 games, shot 47 percent and saw marked increases in just about every stat category after the All-Star break. The offseason of discontent over, the Heat expect to see Beasley's level of play keep improving this year, starting with Wednesday's opener against the New York Knicks.
"He's making progress. I like what he's done this preseason. I do," Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. "I keep on pointing to his focus, but I think we were able to cover a lot more ground. I see a quicker application from practice to the games. ... And defensively, he's done some things that I like. He needs to keep on going."
Spoelstra declined to reveal his opening-night lineup, but players at practice Tuesday said Quentin Richardson will start against the Knicks at small forward, with Beasley starting at power forward -- a move that, if it happens, would have Heat veteran Udonis Haslem coming off the bench, at least for one game.
That's a shocker, considering Haslem has been a reserve in only two contest in the previous five seasons: A meaningless end-of-regular-season game at Atlanta in April 2006, and a game where he was returning from an injury against Philadelphia in February 2008.
For his part, Beasley said the starting-or-not issue wasn't relevant to him.
"It doesn't matter. As long as my team's winning, I can come off the bench, I can be the sixth or seventh man," Beasley said. "As long as I'm contributing to my team positively, it doesn't matter."
What does matter, in his mind, is playing late in games.
Crunch time often meant sitting time for Beasley last season. He played in 81 games, but only appeared in the final 3 minutes of regulation 44 times, logging 91 minutes -- more than 50 fewer than Dwyane Wade, Haslem, Mario Chalmers and Daequan Cook were called upon to get in the deciding minutes.
One of his goals this year is to be a go-to option for Spoelstra when the outcome hangs in the balance.
"I would say, for the most part, the last 2 1/2, 3 months, I was pretty liberal with his time," Spoelstra said. "He would play through it. Other than foul trouble, he was playing through mistakes. He was also making less mistakes. The last couple months of the season, he was extremely efficient offensively."
He spoke earlier this offseason of wanting to prove to his team, both on the court and off, that he's worthy of their trust. The Heat took him with the No. 2 draft pick in 2008, have included him prominently in marketing campaigns, and both Spoelstra and team president Pat Riley rave about his potential as a scorer.
Teammates are sold that his troubles are in the past.
Starting Wednesday, Beasley gets his chance to show the rest of the NBA the same.