HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — The one thing the sports world didn’t need was another day to watch, analyze and then suffer through the collective paralysis of analysis of the film of Lakers forward Metta World Peace‘s wicked elbow to the side of Thunder forward James Harden‘s head from Sunday afternoon.
But it doesn’t really matter how many times you watch it, how many different interpretations there are of it and how many different ways World Peace tries to explain away the lick he passed as both “unfortunate” and “unintentional.”
The video evidence, and World Peace’s extensive history of incidents as Ron Artest, will make it extremely tough for the league’s judge and jury to show leniency for a player who has straddled the line between having and losing control many times before. Even though it did not come by late Monday night, there is little doubt that a suspension of some sort is on the way in next 24 hours.
And at this stage, it’s really only a matter of how severe a penalty it will be for World Peace and the Lakers, whose regular season finale is Thursday night in Sacramento. While the reaction from folks on both sides of this issue was as immediate (thanks to Twitter and other social networking sites) as it was passionate, discipline for World Peace will have to wait until the league doles it out.
Using the Lakers’ last such incident as a guideline, it would seem that World Peace is in line for at least something along the lines of the five-game suspension Lakers center Andrew Bynum received for his mid-air knockdown of Mavericks guard J.J. Barea in the Western Conference semifinals last year.
But, as one prominent agent explained it, that does not mean the league is limited to game penalties in dealing with World Peace. The league is perfectly within its right to fine him an unspecified dollar amount on top of the games he would be forced to sit out, without pay. For a player who has already missed 111 games due to 13 previous suspensions and lost millions in related fines and penalties, this latest incident is a sobering reminder of a place he probably did not intend on revisiting after a relatively incident-free past couple of years.
“I would think at least five games and anywhere from 5 to 10 games,” the agent said. “I thought it was definitely an egregious act and a totally over the top move. It wasn’t a basketball play. There wasn’t a basketball involved at all. Bynum got five for knocking Barea out of the air. This was just as bad, in my opinion, if not worse. It wasn’t a basketball play. And it wasn’t a mistake. Harden never even looked at Artest, didn’t have his hands up and never knew that elbow was coming. This wasn’t Harden’s fault.”
“Like I said, this has to be at least equal to the Bynum [suspension] in length. I can’t see how he gets less than five games.”
Keep in mind that Bynum’s suspension came at the end of the Lakers’ season, so there was no playoff action he could have missed as a result of his suspension. The Lakers are just days away from the start of the playoffs and face the very real possibility of embarking on that tour without World Peace in uniform if the playoffs are a part of a potential suspension.
Meanwhile, Harden underwent further tests Monday, per league stipulations for any player dealing with concussion symptoms, and is listed as day-to-day. Harden is also not expected to play in either of the Thunder’s two remaining regular season games, Tuesday against Sacramento and Wednesday against Denver. His availability for the playoffs remains unclear.
What’s clear is that Thunder and Lakers are seriously damaged by the absence of Harden and Artest, respectively, if they do not have them in uniform and cleared to play in the playoffs.
You saw the Thunder lose that 18-point lead to the Lakers without Harden available after halftime Sunday. Without Harden, they lose not only the frontrunner for this year’s Sixth Man Award, but also the third member of the Thunder’s dynamic trio of Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. The Thunder use Harden’s scoring and playmaking ability late in games to not only take some of the pressure off of Durant and Westbrook, but also to throw a serious curveball at teams designed to slow down those two All-Stars. Harden averages 16.8 points, 4.1 rebounds and 3.7 assists and is shooting 39 percent from beyond the 3-point line. And the Thunder don’t necessarily have anyone on the roster designated as the backup to the best backup in the game.
World Peace was Artest the last time the Lakers made a championship run in 201o. It was Artest’s clutch work in Game 7 of The Finals that saved the Lakers’ bacon, Kobe Bryant included, and helped them hold off the Celtics for the championship. The Lakers have the depth to replace World Peace. Matt Barnes, Devin Ebanks and even Josh McRoberts can work somewhat at small forward in his absence. But it’s still a blow when a team could potentially lose one of the premier perimeter defenders in basketball on the eve of the playoffs. World Peace was in the midst of arguably his best stretch of the season, averaging 15.9 points, 4.0 rebounds, 3.2 assists and 2.0 steals in his last 10 games.
“If either one of these guys is out for an extended period of time in the playoffs,” the agent said, “it’s a major blow for their team. They are both extremely valuable pieces to their respective teams. The Lakers can get by without Artest, but the Thunder without Harden … that’s something I’m sure they don’t even want to think about.”