HANG TIME WEST – There now. That wasn’t so bad, was it?
The Lakers survived Ron Artest-turned-Metta World Peace through four seasons, two names, two uniform numbers, one championship podium, one shooting slump (of about four seasons) and one continuous slide of his once-formidable defense. It’s all good, in other words.
In the final tally – and the best perspective as World Peace heads into free agency with the Orange County Register’s Kevin Ding reporting that World Peace will be amnestied – he was among the least of the Lakers’ problems. Try getting odds on that when they came together in summer of 2009 in a risky choice as management broke up a title lineup and chose then-Artest over bringing back Trevor Ariza, but the eye-rubbing truth is that the biggest issue with the starting small forward by any name was his play, and that’s a victory given his past.
He was quirky, to be sure. But that’s pretty common around the league by now and more than acceptable around the locker room that has known open superstar combat while winning championships.
The Lakers were close to heartless in two consecutive playoffs and most of the regular season of a third, coach Phil Jackson left, Mike Brown was under constant public pressure and finally asked to leave, there was discussion about a Jackson return, Mike D’Antoni was a controversial replacement, E! News showed up to training camp after Lamar Odom married a Kardashian, Magic Johnson was not shy about tipping over gas cans and flicking matches with public comments, Dwight Howard came, Dwight Howard went, Chris Paul was nearly acquired, Pau Gasol was forever in trade talks, and, oh, yeah, Kobe Bryant was in there somewhere.
“Among the least of the problems” might be a soft sell.
Winning a title the first season, 2009-10, justified the front office swapping Ariza for Artest, with the bonus validation of Artest in a starring role. He grabbed Bryant’s errant jumper/assist out of the air for the layup that gave the Lakers a back-breaking Game 5 win over the Suns in the Western Conference finals, a series they wrapped up in Phoenix in Game 6. Then, in Game 7 of The Finals against the Celtics, with both teams grinding gears on offense, he hit a clutch 3-pointer and finished with 20 points, five rebounds and five steals to get the Lakers over the finish line. Reaching the podium with his mind racing and thoughts coming in ricocheting tangents meant anything was possible, and not all good, but it turned out to be delightfully quirky Artest.
He did great things, playing an important role to help drive the Lakers to another crown and off the court raising awareness of mental-health issues and specifically working to improve care for youths. He auctioned off his championship ring for the cause and considered other fundraisers for future titles that never came.
The breakup could be seen coming from a long distance. It was a possibility all along anyway, and the Lakers falling out of title contention when Howard jumped to the Rockets all but clinched the decision to amnesty World Peace and save approximately $30 million. News of the impending departure comes the same week it was announced the Lakers owe $29.26 million in luxury tax for last season, with a harsher penalty kicking in for 2013-14.
World Peace will find a new home and the Lakers will find a new starting small forward for a lot less money, but they will always be linked by a put-back against the Suns, a 3-pointer against the Celtics and a union he and Bryant long wanted. That it is time to move on, if the amnesty does happen, is understandable, mostly because of the money. But it was a good run.