Metta World Peace, it turns out, is a man of his word — the 34-year-old forward really isn't retired. But he also won't be playing professional basketball in the NBA next season. Or, at least, he won't be at the start of the season.
After tweeting early Tuesday morning that he "met with three teams" about playing in China, that a "deal [was] done" and that he "just [had] to sign now," the former Ron Artest has reportedly reached an agreement to join the Sichuan Blue Whales of the Chinese Basketball Association, as first reported by ESPN New York's Ian Begley and subsequently confirmed by Chinese news outlet Sports Sina (via Sportando).
Apparently, World Peace already has his first order of business lined up:
RealGM's Shams Charania reports that World Peace will receive a one-year deal worth $1.43 million, which is a shade less than what he'd make on a 10-plus-year veteran's minimum deal stateside, but will make him the highest-paid import player in the CBA. World Peace still hopes to land a roster spot with an NBA team once the Chinese pro season wraps up in February, according to Charania.
World Peace's chances of piquing NBA interest would figure to improve dramatically if he can show a capacity to make a consistent impact against younger competition, even in a lesser league. First thing's first, though — he'll have to stay on the floor.
That was no easy feat during a 2013-14 NBA campaign that saw him play only 388 minutes for the New York Knicks due in part to struggles with a strained left knee — the same knee in which he suffered a tear to the lateral meniscus during the previous season with the Los Angeles Lakers, only to return, somewhat shockingly, less than two weeks after undergoing surgery.
While his coaches and teammates appreciated his willingness to get back as soon as possible in an attempt to secure a playoff spot, World Peace's contributions waned considerably after his return from injury. His shooting accuracy, always more sporadic than reliable, plummeted; his attempts at playmaking, always at least somewhat adventurous, became more chaotic; his defensive work, formerly his calling card, declined due to decreasing foot speed, lateral quickness and (one would assume) trust in the structural integrity of that repaired wheel. What was left was a bulky, defensive-minded power forward without the quickness to credibly check the best in the business and unable to offer much else.
The Lakers, understandably, weren't too keen on paying $7.7 million for such a player, so they amnestied World Peace. And while the Knicks were quite keen on paying him a tick over the league minimum, World Peace didn't look significantly better after a few months of rehabbing the knee injury, hitting just 39.7 percent of his shots and 31.5 percent from 3-point land while failing to regain that lost defensive step, and soon finding himself excised from head coach Mike Woodson's rotation before eventually receiving a contract buyout.
The 14-year NBA veteran, who won the 2003-04 Defensive Player of the Year award with the Indiana Pacers and the 2010 NBA championship with the Lakers, had his sights set on linking up with a contender in time for this spring's playoffs, but there weren't any takers. Apparently, there still aren't.
"I think because of last year, people think I'm still hurt," World Peace told Larry King during a recent television interview. "I'm not hurt. I got hurt a year ago, a year and a half ago. Just like anybody else, if they got hurt a year and a half ago, they'd heal. Two years, I'm healthy."
He'll now try to prove it with a Sichuan squad that earned promotion to the CBA last season after winning China's second-division championship two years ago. The Blue Whales employed a trio of former NBA players last year — former Memphis Grizzlies and Phoenix Suns center Hamed Haddadi, ex-Oklahoma City Thunder, Charlotte Bobcats and Boston Celtics forward D.J. White, and guard Darius Johnson-Odom, who had cups of coffee with the Lakers and Philadelphia 76ers. World Peace, of course, is a much higher-profile player than they are and ought to increase the level of interest and attention on Sichuan this season, but just how much he's able to move the needle on the court for a Sichuan team that ranked 13th out of 18 CBA teams in points allowed per possession and 17th out of 18 in points scored per possession (according to RealGM's numbers) remains to be seen.
Maybe World Peace winds up finding a comfortable niche as a player and person in China, as fellow New York City-born former All-Star Stephon Marbury has after his U.S. career petered out. Maybe he performs brilliantly enough on both ends of the floor to generate real interest in an NBA return come the spring. Or — and this certainly feels at this stage like the most likely option — maybe the decline in his game over the past couple of years continues unabated, and this last attempt at hanging onto an on-court life falls short. However it plays out, though, Metta seems to be heading overseas with a positive attitude.
"People think I can't play anymore, so my agent, he's got a lot of questions when he's going to these other teams," World Peace told King. "I told him, 'Don't worry about it,' you know. 'We'll go somewhere, we'll play amazing, and other teams will just lose out.' [...] You know, wherever I go, I'm going to be amazing."
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