Metta World Peace, in what could be his last NBA week, warns that 'it’s too early' to talk retirement

Metta World Peace’s vertical is not what it once was. (Getty)
Metta World Peace’s vertical is not what it once was. (Getty)

Metta World Peace is set to play what could be the final game of his NBA career on Wednesday night, the 991st of a 17-season (plus one season spent in the China Basketball Association) career. Prior to that, the 37-year old could play his last home game as a Los Angeles Laker on Tuesday night, facing down the New Orleans Pelicans in a game that means nothing to either team.

The Pelicans are out of the playoff race and have already traded away their lottery pick, the Lakers are desperately trying to tank games in order to improve their own dubious lottery standing, and with every win the squad is even failing at that.

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Caught in the middle of this unholy confluence of varying interests, most of them NBA-level skeevy, is Metta World Peace. Tuesday’s game will be just the 24th of his season thus far, but he’s worked nearly 38 minutes in his three previous contests in what has easily been his most active stretch of the campaign. The Lakers, frankly, have MWP (1.6 points in 5.4 minutes a game, 24 percent shooting) on the court in order to increase the team’s odds for a loss, and World Peace has reacted as you’d expect – acting as the tipping part in three consecutive Laker wins, working an unexpected role down the stretch of Los Angeles’ win over the Minnesota Timberwolves on Sunday night.

Metta and Jordan Clarkson characterized World Peace’s role in the final stretch of seconds during that Laker win:

“I wanted to shoot the three. I wanted to try to end the game, but I didn’t know if I was behind the line,” World Peace said, chuckling. “My leg started shaking like a dog. I didn’t know where I was. Then it looked like I was nervous. I wasn’t.”

That did not stop World Peace teammates from razzing him. Randle joked it took World Peace about 30 seconds before taking the shot. Lakers guard Jordan Clarkson abstained from diplomacy so he could crack a joke.

“His leg, he was shaking like a stripper in the corner,” Clarkson said, laughing. “He didn’t know what he was going to do. I thought, ‘Is he going to shoot it?’ I’m looking at him like, ‘You see his leg shaking?’ I know he made bigger shots than this.”

With the good cheer in strong supply and Metta’s contract due to expire in July, it was pressed upon first-year Lakers coach Luke Walton to summarize his expectations for the veteran forward moving forward, World Peace stares down what could be his last week as an active NBA player:

“Whether it’s his last game or not,” Walton said, “we’ll get him out here.”

World Peace […] has earned rave reviews the past two years for his practice intensity, positive reinforcement to younger teammates and as a role model with his dietary habits.

“We want to reward Metta every chance we get for how great he’s been this year and the way he’s worked and the way he helps the young guys and being positive,” Walton said. “He’s been one of the better players in this league for a long time. He’s won a championship with this organization, obviously. So that comes into play.”

Walton entered the league as a rookie in 2003, just as the then-Ron Artest entered his fifth year as an NBA pro, so one can understand why Luke would assume Metta World Peace would want to hang it up after all those years plus a regular season’s worth of career playoff games.

MWP, however, isn’t ready to rule anything out save certainty:

“I want to play a long time,” World Peace said. “That’s cool. All I got to do is work hard. I know what I have to do to get there. I set those goals a long time ago and I don’t have to think any more.”

MWP was reminded, assuredly by Nick Young, that former teammate Kobe Bryant scored 60 points in his final game at the Staples Center in 2016, but World Peace demurred:

“I’m not going for that,” World Peace said. “If I can get five assists, I’ll be happy.”

World Peace does not plan to formally retire following his 17th NBA season and 18th professionally after also playing overseas in China and Italy in 2013-14. The 37-year-old World Peace hopes to play at least two more years in the NBA or overseas, which would mark a 20-year career.

“There’s too many free agents and rookies they have to sign,” World Peace said of the Lakers. “It’s the last thing I would think about this early. The whole league has to get the free agents, the rookies and get the B-class players and C-class players. I never think about it. It’s too early.”

You’ll have to allow Metta World Peace, even staring down two more professional seasons after shooting just 29.7 percent as a Laker over the last two seasons, his typical sense of skewed perspective.

He’s not supposed to be here. He wasn’t supposed to be a lot of places – from high school hot shot to borderline-anonymous NBA first rounder to All-Star to franchise destroyer to franchise role player toward whatever the heck he is now. A savvy, mostly terrible at NBA ball, greybeard without the typical back story.

Metta World Peace is reminded at nearly every NBA stop that he was the biggest part of one of the NBA’s darkest nights, back in 2004, when he engaged with fans and helped create an all-out brawl in the now nearly departed Palace at Auburn Hills.

Ron Artest drives to the right. (Getty)
Ron Artest drives to the right. (Getty)

Poorly conceived trade requests – hardly unexpected considering Ron Artest’s insistence on having some paid personal leave prior to his brawl with Detroit Pistons fans in November 2004 – didn’t help his end in Indiana. Squads in Chicago, Indianapolis, Sacramento and even Houston at one point all decided that his presence wasn’t worth sustaining, for various reasons. All of them pretty much reasons, y’know?

Through it all, though, a champion emerged. The Lakers weren’t the first team to encourage that Metta World Peace work with a therapist, but they were the first squad to feature an alpha ball dominator so intense, in Mr. Bryant, that World Peace gave up on his ambitions on bullying his way toward becoming a consistent 25-point scorer.

Since the Lakers have fallen apart, Metta World Peace (so named since his decision to change from Artest back in 2011) has fallen victim to NBA age. A stint with an aging Knicks crew and brief post-China tour of Italy have done little to enhance his Hall of Fame eligibility, which no doubt notes that the former Ron Artest dutifully hamstrung his career at its absolute peak: eliminating nearly an entire season’s worth of in-prime games back in 2004-05.

Championships followed, but only once Metta World Peace adapted to the league that emerged in his absence, one that could have left him behind.

The 2004-05 season also saw the introduction of enhanced hand-checking rules and the introduction of the Seven Seconds of Less movement in Phoenix. MWP could have stayed stuck with what brought him previous acclaim and many millions, stayed a product of a different era that allowed tanks of varying squat sizes play “small” forward.

Instead, he flourished. Both as a small forward and big forward in his latest years, with his most notable career highlight coming against the specific Suns variation of the Seven Seconds or Less era’s last gasp:

That was quite a long time ago. We had to screenshot tweets back then. Even before 2010, Metta World Peace entered the NBA with a pager. And a trick to get some money off for that and his new DVD player. He’d already adapted by then, changed his spots twice, and yet that night in Los Angeles feels like a generation ago.

He’s changed, and changed, and changed again. Metta World Peace’s dwindling final few years remind more of Kurt Thomas or Derrick McKey’s than Bobby Jones’ or even LeBron James’. And, if you balk at the final reference, understand that to hear New York City circa 1997-98 tell it, Ron Artest was going to be LeBron James well before LeBron James.

Now he’s playing for a coach that was drafted in the same year as LeBron, handing out gift minutes for a team trying to lose, all while talking up a few more years as a well-paid fringe pro. I don’t know if we were to expect this sort of longevity from the beginning, the smartest ones always find a way, but it sure is something to behold all the way in 2017.

This isn’t to say Metta World Peace was right, or that the league (via that infamous “committee of one” in David Stern, who suspended MWP in 2004 for what turned out to be 86 games) knew what it was doing all along, because nobody can lay claim for the full credit for how this all turned out. All both sides can do is be applauded for thinking on their feet, even if too stern an initial thought can lead to a terrible outcome in the interim.

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Metta World Peace was never in danger of being banned in the NBA in 2004, the crimes were not significant enough and there wasn’t anything close to the level of pre-brawl background with World Peace that the league could point to prior to a lifetime dismissal. Not that the NBA ever wanted out of the Ron Artest business, anyway, the guy was one of the few interesting minds that was afforded a national chatter stage back during the NBA’s dark days, and the league wanted to ensure his sustained employment, even while acknowledging that MWP wasn’t a full heel, in a Bill Laimbeer sense.

No, he was more Dennis Rodman, as dutifully noted by the press at the time when Artest showed up to Pacer camp in 2004 (and, eventually, the Palace at Auburn Hills) with the ex-Bulls’ famous No. 91 in tow. Metta World Peace reminded of Rodman both in the ranks of the ignominy, and championship glory.

Now he’s not even Rodman in the final years, because at this point Dennis was sleeping in Mark Cuban’s guesthouse and wearing a weird number for the Dallas Mavericks in a very public way. Metta World Peace isn’t even going out like Bill Laimbeer, who was punched out in practice by teammate Isiah Thomas in the final season for both (Thomas broke his hand in the incident). Thankfully, he’s not going out like John Brisker or Warren Jabali once did.

No, what we’re getting is another side of Metta World Peace. Not the retiring side, not just yet.

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Kelly Dwyer is an editor for Ball Don’t Lie on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at KDonhoops@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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