We've been watching Metta World Peace's Twitter account over the past few days to see how the famously off-kilter forward would continue to poke fun at the rumors that the Los Angeles Lakers were considering using the amnesty provision in the NBA's 2011 collective bargaining agreement on him. On Thursday evening, though, what came from @MettaWorldPeace wasn't a gag:
Yes, three days after Kevin Ding of the Orange County Register reported they would, the Lakers announced that they had designated the former Ron Artest as their amnesty player and waiving him. The move sheds the final year and $7.7 million left on contract from the Lakers' books in an effort to pare down the amount the team will owe the league in luxury tax payments, just days after being hit with a massive tax bill for the failed 2012-13 season.
General manager Mitch Kupchak issued a team statement announcing the decision:
"It's tough to say goodbye to a player such as Metta, who has been a significant part of our team the past four seasons. For anyone who’s had the opportunity to get to know him, it’s impossible not to love him [...] He has made many contributions to this organization, both in his community work as well as in our games; perhaps no more so than in his clutch play in Game 7 of the 2010 NBA Finals in helping to lead us over the Celtics in one of the greatest playoff wins in Lakers history. We thank Metta for all his contributions and wish him the best of luck in the future.”
Naturally, Metta responded appropriately:
(Thanks for that, Metta.)
With a top-heavy, expensive roster like the Lakers', the amnesty provision is one of the few tools at the front office's disposal to make a massive payroll reduction in one fell swoop. Three Lakers earn higher salaries than World Peace — Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol and Steve Nash. The Lakers couldn't amnesty Nash's contract because it was signed July 1, 2011.
While they technically could have axed Bryant or Gasol, the fans would've revolted if they got rid of Kobe, and Gasol's a less attractive candidate than Metta because A) the Lakers need a good big man after Dwight Howard's departure and B) he's a better potential trade chip than World Peace should it come to that. The Lakers also could have amnestied Steve Blake, but the reserve point guard's $4 million contract wouldn't have generated the same cost savings.
So World Peace goes on the amnesty chopping block, which takes the $7,727,280 owed World Peace for 2013-14 not only off the Lakers' salary figure, but also off the amount they owe in luxury tax. (They will still have to pay World Peace that $7.7 million, though; the debt to the player isn't extinguished just because the balance-sheet implications are.)
Under the old CBA, teams paid a flat $1 in tax for every $1 they spent over the so-called luxury tax line. Under the 2011 CBA, teams pay amounts that increase incrementally based on how far over the cap the team in question happens to be — $1.50 in tax for every buck spent over the line until you get to $5 million over, then $1.75 in tax for every dollar between $5 million and $10 million over, $2.50 in tax for every dollar between $10 million and $15 million, and so on. The '13-'14 luxury tax line was set Tuesday at $71.7 million.
Assuming L.A. fills out its roster with veteran minimum salary signings like Jordan Farmar and Nick Young, jettisoning World Peace's contract will save the Lakers $14.3 million in tax payments, according to salary cap aficionado Larry Coon. They'll still have a long way to go to get all the way under the $71.7 million tax line, but considering the final tax figure isn't tallied until the date of the team's final regular-season game, the Lakers have plenty of time to try to figure out how to get there, should they choose to do so.
OK, enough math — what does this mean on the court? Well, for starters, it means that Nick Young might have started the day without a job and ended it as the Lakers' starting small forward, which means this is a pretty rad day for Nick Young. It also means the Lakers now don't really have a best perimeter defender or any depth on the wing, and are going to have to find another minimum-salary small forward (or two, roster-permitting) on the scrap heap as the summer progresses.
For World Peace, it means waiting through a 48-hour waiver period in which any team with available cap space can make a bid for his services. Right now, according to Hoopsworld's Eric Pincus, there are only 11 teams with cap space remaining — the Atlanta Hawks, Philadelphia 76ers, Detroit Pistons, Orlando Magic, Sacramento Kings, Milwaukee Bucks, Dallas Mavericks, Charlotte Bobcats, Utah Jazz, Cleveland Cavaliers and Phoenix Suns.
If none of those teams makes a bid over the next two days, World Peace will clear waivers and be free to sign with any team he chooses. Yahoo! Sports NBA columnist Marc J. Spears reported Tuesday that the New York Knicks would have interest in bringing in the Queensbridge, N.Y., product for the veteran's minimum. Sam Amick of USA TODAY Sports reported that World Peace would also be interested in joining contenders like the Los Angeles Clippers, Brooklyn Nets, Miami Heat, Oklahoma City Thunder, San Antonio Spurs and two of his former teams — the Chicago Bulls, who drafted him in the first round of the 1999 NBA draft out of St. John's, and the Indiana Pacers, with whom he played parts of five seasons, earning an All-Star berth in 2004 and a nod as the NBA's 2003-04 Defensive Player of the Year.
Beyond that, though, it also means the end of a pretty weird, pretty amazing chapter in both World Peace's career and recent Laker lore.
It closes an eventful four-year run in purple and gold for World Peace, who joined the Lakers as Ron Artest for the 2009-10 season, one year after the Lakers beat the Orlando Magic for the NBA championship and two years after he reportedly barged into L.A.'s showers following the Lakers' '08 Finals defeat at the hands of the Boston Celtics to tell Kobe Bryant he was "going to find a way to come to L.A. and give you the help you need to win a title."
Artest did that in their first season together, averaging 11 points, 4.3 rebounds, three assists and 1.4 steals in just under 34 minutes per game and taking on the Lakers' toughest perimeter assignments in his 77 starts. He was uneven in the postseason that first year, but came up with multiple big games to help the Lakers' quest for a repeat, including a pair of huge closeout games — 25 points on 10 for 16 shooting, four rebounds and three steals in Game 6 to vanquish Nash's Phoenix Suns, followed by 20 points, five rebounds and five steals in the Game 7 win over Boston that Kupchak referenced in his statement.
He had huge moments in that title run, too. He made a game-winning putback layup and made Craig Sager say Queensbridge; he celebrated the Game 7 win with two amazing interviews in which he thanked everybody from his hood, his psychiatrist and Doris Burke, called himself a coward, said his dad had big muscles and promoted his rap single, "Champions." As career pinnacles go, it was a pretty amazing one. Artest — who later, perfectly, legally petitioned to change his name to Metta World Peace and successfully did so — and the Lakers never got back to that peak, though.
They made it to the second round of the 2011 postseason before getting blitzed by the Dallas Mavericks, precipitating Phil Jackson's retirement. They made it to the second round of the 2012 postseason before getting blitzed by the Oklahoma City Thunder, precipitating the super-team-intended acquisitions of Howard and Nash. They made it to the 2013 playoffs despite a flaming wreck of an injury-filled, drama-fueled season before getting blitzed by the San Antonio Spurs, precipitating the uncertain future with which the team is now faced. The world had turned and left them out of the ranks of the elite.
Still, as we get bummed about the end of Metta's time in Southern California, let's celebrate the degree to which he made the most out of being in Los Angeles. He parlayed his eccentricity and increased public profile into roles as a detective in a Lifetime movie and an "overtly sexual vampire elder" in a TV pilot. He landed what we're sure was a lucrative endorsement deal for cell phone watches. He snagged guest spots on "Yo Gabba Gabba!" and multiple local newscasts, and hosted his own stand-up comedy tour. He went into the stands and kissed ladies' hands. He had a lot of fun.
He also became a really staunch mental health advocate, auctioning off his 2010 championship ring to benefit mental health charities and raising even more money for organizations in need, and making public service announcements aimed at raising mental health awareness, especially for kids. His efforts earned him the NBA's 2011 J. Walter Kennedy Citizenship Award, the kind of honor that was unthinkable years earlier, when he was still fighting to rehabilitate his image after the "Malice at the Palace," his subsequent season-long suspension and the ugly end to his time in Indiana.
He always tried, he always cared and he always gave Lakers fans the common courtesy of doing whatever he could to try to live up to his contract, even going so far as to rush back into the lineup 12 days after knee surgery this spring because L.A. was a M.A.S.H. unit that desperately needed all hands on deck in its playoff push. His numbers won't rank up there with the greats in Laker history — 298 appearances, including 270 starts; averages of 9.9 points, four rebounds, 2.2 assists and 1.4 blocks in 31.1 minutes per game; marks of 40.3 percent from the floor, 34.1 percent from the 3-point arc and 68.5 percent from the foul line — but he'll be remembered as a warrior by these fans, and that ain't nothing.