HANG TIME WEST – The NBA on Tuesday suspended Metta World Peace seven games for the unprovoked elbow to the head of James Harden, a discipline that will cost the Lakers their starting small forward for at least the bulk of the first round of the playoffs.
World Peace will be sidelined for the regular-season finale Thursday at Sacramento and the next six games as a result of the dangerous blow to the back of Harden’s head when the Lakers and Thunder played Sunday in Los Angeles. If the Lakers advance out of the first round in less than six games, the suspension carries into the Western Conference semifinals. If they are eliminated in less than six games, it carries over to the start of next season.
The amount of money the former Ron Artest will lose depends on how much comes from his 2011-12 salary and how much, if any, is based on 2012-13 income.
“The concussion suffered by James Harden demonstrates the danger posed by violent acts of this kind, particularly when they are directed at the head area,” commissioner David Stern said in a statement. “We remain committed to taking necessary measures to protect the safety of NBA players, including the imposition of appropriate penalties for players with a history of on-court altercations.”
World Peace’s history, as referenced by Stern, was obviously a factor in considering the length of the penalty. Though he had greatly helped his reputation in recent years, most notably by winning the J. Walter Kennedy Award last season for community work and citizenship, a past with several run-ins clearly came into play.
“Metta has for the most part been a model citizen both on and off the court since joining the Lakers,” Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak said in a statement. “Still, his most recent lapse in judgment is not to be condoned or accepted. His actions could have seriously injured another player, and his absence during this suspension will hurt our team as well. While we accept the league’s decision, we will be supportive of Metta and try to help him be more professional on the court.”
Beyond re-injuring his own image, World Peace has done damage to the Lakers’ playoff hopes, even with the first-round opponent yet to be decided. That becomes especially true if they face the Grizzlies and high-scoring small forward Rudy Gay, one of the possibilities. And if it’s a rematch of the 2011 West semifinals with the Mavericks, World Peace would undoubtedly have been counted on for shifts against Dirk Nowitzki.
The situation is compounded with Matt Barnes out the final game of the regular season with a sprained right ankle and Devin Ebanks, another small forward, dealing with bruised fingers after dropping a weight on his left hand during a workout. It was Ebanks who finished the game Sunday after World Peace was ejected and Barnes was injured, and now it is Ebanks, after averaging 16 minutes in his 23 appearances this season, who will have to step to the forefront as the new starter for the playoffs or at least the backup to a player with a tender ankle.
Harden, meanwhile, did not play Tuesday as the Thunder played the Kings and there is no timetable for his return with Oklahoma City about to open the playoffs as the second-seeded team in the West. World Peace’s actions changed that much — his image, his bank account, Harden’s health, the Thunder lineup and the Lakers’ level of vulnerability.