May 12, 2012; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Los Angeles Lakers shooting guard Kobe Bryant (24) and small forward Metta World Peace (15) react in the final minutes of game seven of the Western Conference quarterfinals of the 2012 NBA Playoffs against the Denver Nuggets at the Staples Center. Lakers won 96-87. Mandatory Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

Metta World Peace’s Run in L.A. was Fun, but likely Coming to an End.

Apr. 7, 2012; Phoenix, AZ, USA; Los Angeles Lakers forward Metta World Peace smiles during the game against the Phoenix Suns at the US Airways Center. The Suns defeated the Lakers 125-105. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

The Los Angeles Lakers were coming off of a 5 game series victory over the Orlando Magic in the 2009 NBA Finals when they entered the off-season in 2009. The Lakers were back on top after just earning their franchise’s 15th NBA title and 2nd straight Finals appearance. In July of 2009 Phil Jackson was still the head coach, Kobe Bryant was the injury free leader of the ball club, while Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum and Lamar Odom formed the biggest and longest front court in basketball.

Despite their success and promising outlook for the immediate future, the Lakers had decisions to make with the roster. Trevor Ariza, an integral part of their just-completed championship run was a free agent and seeking a lucrative, long-term contract. The Lakers, while interested in bringing Ariza back and not breaking up a roster that proved to be championship material, were not looking to get into a bidding war or wait around to solidify their roster for the upcoming season while other potential free agents were swooped up and taken off the market by other competing NBA teams.

Almost immediately after Ariza and his agent decided to mull over the Lakers contract offering and shop it around the league, the Lakers signed the then known Ron Artest to a 4 year contract with a player option for a 5th.

The decision to sign Artest proved to be the right one. Artest was the tough, physical and intimidating defender that was necessary to guard the beefier and prolific offensive small forwards that awaited the Lakers on their championship run in 2010. In their 2010 championship run, Metta handcuffed Kevin Durant to 35% shooting from the field in the 1st round and contained Paul Pierce in the finals to just 18 points per game and 44% shooting.

And of course there is that game 7 performance in the NBA Finals against the Boston Celtics. If not for Artest’s 20 point game, which included a clutch 3-point shot in the closing minute of the 4th quarter, the Lakers likely don’t win that deciding 7th game and instead, the Boston Celtics are crowned the 2010 NBA champions.

The Los Angeles Lakers fans base absolutely fell in love with Artest’s quirky personality.

Who could forget Artest’s post game ramblings after game 7 victory against the Boston Celtics in the 2010 NBA Finals.

That was such a great time to be a Laker and Lakers’ fan; but that was 3 years ago and today, Artest is known as Metta World Peace and is a shell of the player that he was during that 2010 championship run. Today, defenders routinely beat Metta off the dribble because he no longer has the lateral foot speed to keep defenders in front of him. His erratic and unpredictable play on the offensive end can no longer be excused or offset by his defensive play.

Reality is that Metta now hurts the Lakers when on the floor.

With presumably a front line of the big lumbering and slow footed Pau Gasol, a 34-year old Kobe Bryant, who will be recovering from an Achilles injury, the defensive enigma that is Steve Nash, the Lakers can ill afford another slow footed perimeter defender in the rotation, let alone the starting line up.

That means that the Lakers’ only opportunity to get quicker and better defensively out in the perimeter is in Metta’s spot.

Metta has a player’s option for 7.7 million this coming season. Considering Metta’s decline as a player and the fact that he is coming off knee surgery the prospects of him being offered anything near his current salary or a long term deal from another team is extremely low.  Metta will almost certainly pick up his player option and be on the Lakers’ payroll for next season.

The Lakers have the opportunity to use the amnesty clause to rid themselves of a bad contract and save millions in luxury taxes. The Lakers will likely use that amnesty clause to waive Metta World Peace this season for both the cost saving benefit, but most importantly, to open up playing time for someone that can help improve their ball club and not continue to hurt it.

Thank you Metta for everything you did for the Lakers franchise. The Lakers don’t beat the Boston Celtics for their 16th championship without you.

Thank you for your unfiltered comments and wearing your heart on your sleeve, allowing everyone to enjoy your personality. Too many athletes hold that back from the fans.

Thank you for the effort and passion you gave every night. Thank you for caring about winning.

Your time here will be forever entrenched in Lakers lore, right there with other great roles players like Rick Fox, Robert Horry and Derek Fisher. Just like them, you will always be considered a Los Angeles Laker, no matter what jersey you’ve worn before or from this point forward.

Some might say that this goodbye is premature. However, based on the Lakers financial situation, obvious team needs and Metta’s ineffectiveness as a player at this stage of his career, the writing is on the wall. I am simply taking the time to acknowledge it and give thanks where it is due.

Do you think I am wrong and Metta World Peace will return next year?

You can reach me at the my Twitter handle, @fullcourtfern, to discuss this article, anything Lakers or NBA related, or if you just need someone to listen to your boyfriend/girlfriend problems. 

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