When Metta World Peace came to the Los Angeles Lakers in 2009, he was considered a massive risk. The controversial forward was replacing Trevor Ariza, the unassuming prototypical “three-and-D” swingman who checked in to merely shut down his man, hit a few corner threes and clam up. Metta, then still going by Ron Artest, was not only coming off a suspension-stained past, he was still attempting to ply his trade as a game-changer offensively – dominating the ball, initiating one-on-one moves and overestimating his own skills on that end. How was that to fit inside the Lakers’ triangle offense, alongside actual game changers in Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum?
Quite well, actually. MWP won a championship in 2010 with Phil Jackson’s crew, crediting his psychiatrist along the way before auctioning off his championship ring for funds that were immediately sent toward charities devoted to raising awareness for mental-health treatment. The next season was stained by Metta’s elbow to the side of James Harden’s head, but, by and large, MWP was a pussycat in Los Angeles, a thoughtful and pleasant sort who even handled the Lakers’ release of him last week with cheerful ease.
Quick – get this guy back to New York.
Yahoo! Sports’ Adrian Wojnarowski reported on Monday that MWP will sign a two-year deal with the New York Knicks, World Peace’s hometown team, for what the Knicks have left of the midlevel exception. A two-year deal that could be worth $3.2 million if Metta exercises the second year of the contract, a player option. Metta would be returning to the city he grew up in, and the town he spent a year of college in while at St. John’s.
In myriad ways, Ron Artest ain’t Metta World Peace, but this swings both ways. The Knicks aren’t getting a guy who could alter the makeup of a locker room negatively, at least based on what we saw in Los Angeles, but they’re also not getting the defender who used to harass them to no end as a member of the Chicago Bulls and Indiana Pacers. MWP’s defense didn’t falter terribly in Los Angeles, but increased attention to hand-check laws and the onset of age (Metta, never the sprightliest guy, turns 34 this November) has limited the man’s ability to stay with the quicker wings this league has to offer.
His defensive smarts, especially when MWP utilizes patience and stays in the moment, are still around in abundance. And with the growing rise of smallish power forwards, with guys like LeBron James spending time at the four spot, Metta still has a role in this league. Even if one of his main potential combatants – New York All-Star Carmelo Anthony – will now become his teammate.
In Mike Woodson’s spread-out, motion offense Metta will be asked to provide 3-point shooting and little else. This is a bit of a bugger, as MWP has shot above the league average from behind the arc just twice in his career. He managed a 29 percent mark from long range last season with the Lakers, and that was in the sort of spread offense that valued guys like World Peace hanging out behind the arc.
Even with the addition of Andrea Bargnani gumming up the works, if Tyson Chandler can at least approximate his play from 2011-12, then the Knicks have a chance to improve upon their 18th ranking in defense next season. For as much as we mock the Knicks for overspending, and as much as we appreciate what the since-retired Jason Kidd gave this team behind the arc for the first half of the season last year, this was still a 54-win team in 2012-13. And they just picked up a darn good player for just over a million and a half a year.
In the end, some 14 years later, this helps make up for one of the bigger blunders in New York Knicks history. The Knicks had managed to make it to the 1999 NBA Finals despite earning just the eighth seed in that year’s playoff bracket, which meant that a Finals-caliber team was able to grab a pick in the middle of the first round in a draft that was held just days after the team’s Finals loss. With Ron Artest on the board and fans cheering for his selection, interim Knicks general manager Ed Tapscott selected French big man Frederic Weis instead. The pick was widely ridiculed, and the Chicago Bulls quickly snatched up Artest with the following pick. Weis never played a game in the NBA.
Nearly a decade and a half later, with a whole new name and a whole lot of baggage both desirable and sometimes detestable in figurative hand, Metta World Peace returns. We hope he brings his recently sustained good attitude and new-found sense of calm, a needed burst of Los Angeles sunny to sprinkle over the island of Manhattan.