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Metta World Peace Candidly Reflects on NBA Journey

Metta World Peace candidly looks back at the ups and downs of his NBA career.

Michael Scotto

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You may think of Metta World Peace as the guy the New York Knicks passed on for Frederic Weis in the 1999 NBA draft. Perhaps you think of a Defensive Player of the Year or a champion with the L.A. Lakers. Some think of the “Malice at the Palace” brawler with the Indiana Pacers.

However, if it were up to World Peace, when all is said and done he’d like to be remembered in a much simpler way.

“Just a kid from the hood, ghetto as f—, and loves to have fun; it’s pretty simple,” World Peace told Basketball Insiders with a smile and a laugh at the end of his answer.

Born as Ronald Artest in Queensbridge, NY, World Peace attended St. John’s University for two years before declaring for the 1999 NBA draft. The Knicks held the No. 15 overall pick in the draft and selected Weis, who is most famously known as the big man Vince Carter leaped over for arguably the greatest dunk all-time in the Olympics. Weis ultimately never played a single minute in the NBA.

Instead of going to his hometown team, the Chicago Bulls selected him one pick later. World Peace reflected on what could’ve happened in New York if the Knicks drafted him.

“Obviously I wanted to go to the Knicks, but St. Johns was the closest that I could get to bringing that fire back to New York City,” World Peace told Basketball Insiders. “As a kid, New York was in my blood, and that was it. I got a chance to play for the Knicks, so it was cool, but it was towards the end of my career. It wasn’t when I was the best defender and everything. But that was my goal, man: to bring a championship to New York City. It just didn’t work out that way.”

World Peace was then traded from the Bulls to the Pacers with Ron Mercer, Brad Miller and Kevin Ollie in exchange for Jalen Rose, Travis Best, Norm Richardson and a 2002 second-round draft pick (Lonny Baxter) on February 19, 2002.

In 2004, World Peace endured the highest and lowest point of his career with the Pacers.

That year he became an All-Star, won the league’s Defensive Player of the Year award and was voted as an All-NBA Third Team member.

Then, at the height of his career, things went spiraling out of control on November 19, 2004. That’s when the “Malice at the Palace,” one of the darkest days in league history, took place.

The Pacers were leading the Detroit Pistons, 97-82, with 45 seconds remaining when Ben Wallace took exception to a foul under the basket and shoved World Peace all the way near the three-point line on the wing. The two teams exchanged shoves before things briefly settled down. However, it was the calm before the storm. Wallace then threw a towel at World Peace. Moments later, a fan in the stands threw a drink at World Peace, which hit him in the face while he was near the scorer’s table.

In the blink of an eye, World Peace made a decision that would change his life forever. He ran into the stands after the fan that threw the drink. Stephen Jackson and other players from both teams joined World Peace in the stands. Fans punched World Peace and Pacers guard Fred Jones.

Two fans with Pistons jerseys went onto the court near the Pacers’ bench and approached World Peace, who punched them. Moments later, Jermaine O’Neal also joined the scene and punched a fan.

As the Pacers attempted to leave the court, fans threw a chair, liquid, popcorn and clothing as the players went into the tunnel to avoid danger.

The league suspended World Peace for the remainder of the season, including any playoff games. Ultimately, he missed 86 games during the 2004-05 season, which was the longest on-court suspension in league history.

World Peace reflected on how the “Malice at the Palace” affected his career and the perception of him as a person.

“Well, I don’t really look at the perception from another person,” World Peace told Basketball Insiders. “The viewpoint of me is all about, how does the Earth kind of feel about you? How do the animals and the trees and the environment, how do they feel about you? That’s what’s most important, the connection that you have with all the good things about life, which is obviously the thing that provides us the most happiness probably. That would be the air, right?”

The following season, World Peace was traded to the Sacramento Kings for Peja Stojakovic. World Peace ended his Pacers tenure with averages of 16.5 points and 5.2 rebounds per game. Most of all, World Peace and the Pacers ended his tenure asking themselves what could have been during a lost 2004-05 season.

World Peace became more of an offensive presence with the Kings, averaging 18.9 points per game during his two and a half seasons in Sacramento. World Peace made one trip to the playoffs with the Kings when he was acquired, but the team lost to the San Antonio Spurs in a five-game first-round series in 2006. During the next two seasons, World Peace and the Kings failed to make the playoffs.

The Kings then traded World Peace, Patrick Ewing Jr. and Sean Singletary to the Houston Rockets for Donte Greene, Bobby Jackson and a 2009 first-round draft pick (Omri Casspi). World Peace averaged 17.1 points per game and shot a career-high 40 percent from beyond the arc during his lone season with the Rockets. The team lost Game 7 of the 2009 Western Conference Semifinals to the Lakers.

World Peace signed with the Lakers in free agency. In his first season, the Lakers defeated the Boston Celtics in a seven-game series to win the championship. During the final two games of the series, World Peace played a vital role – as he averaged 17.5 points on 45 percent shooting from the field and 39 percent from beyond the arc, as well as 5.5 rebounds in 39 minutes per game.

World Peace has fond memories of those times in Los Angeles.

“For me, it was great because something I always wanted [was] a ring, and I got it here,” World Peace told Basketball Insiders. “That’s pretty much all I was playing for; I didn’t really care about nothing else. I got it with the Lakers and they gave me an opportunity to play for probably one of the best franchises in the world: Maccabi, Lakers, Yankees, Cowboys.”

World Peace returned home to fulfill his dream of playing for the Knicks after a four-year tenure with the Lakers.

After a 29-game stint with the Knicks, World Peace went overseas to finish the season in China with the Sichuan Blue Whales. The following season, World Peace played in Italy for Pallancestro Cantu where he went by the nickname, “The Panda’s Friend.”

After his stint overseas, World Peace returned to the Lakers as a veteran mentor.

These days, he’s older than his rookie head coach Luke Walton – his former adversary and teammate over the years. Walton gave an interesting answer when asked if he could’ve envisioned World Peace as a veteran mentor after playing against him.

“No. But when I played with him, yes,” Walton replied. “He’s done an incredible job of evolving and being the person that he is today. He deserves a lot of credit. He’s openly said he works with a shrink or what not. He’s great in the locker room. He’s great talking to the young guys. He’s great with the way he works, and he takes care of himself. I saw that in Metta when I played as his teammate, but when I played against him, I probably wouldn’t have guessed that would be the case.”

In the aftermath of becoming an All-Star, Defensive Player of the Year and “Malice at the Palace” brawler as Ron Artest, playing overseas as “The Panda’s Friend,” and returning to the Lakers to be a veteran mentor as Metta World Peace, the 37-year-old claims he’s never changed.

“It’s no different,” World Peace told Basketball Insiders. “I’m still very much in love with the streets, very obsessed with the streets. Like, I’ve always been the oldest, I’m a little bit more mature, but that same kid that loved the streets back in the days when he came in, I’m the same exact person.”

Michael Scotto is a Senior NBA Writer for Basketball Insiders in his sixth season covering the league. He also works for The Associated Press focusing on Brooklyn Nets and New York Knicks game coverage.

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Reviewing the Nurkic Trade: Denver’s Perspective

The Denver Nuggets have been on a miraculous run this postseason, but that doesn’t mean that they’re infallible. Drew Maresca reviews the 2017 trade that sent Jusuf Nurkic from Denver to Portland.

Drew Maresca

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The Denver Nuggets are fresh off of a 114-106 win over the Los Angeles Lakers in the Western Conference Finals, pulling within three wins of the franchise’s first trip to the NBA Finals. But what if I told you that the Nuggets’ roster could be even more talented by acting more deliberately in a trade from three years ago?

While Denver won on Tuesday night, they lost a nail bitter on Sunday – for which most of the blame has been pointed at a defensive breakdown by Nuggets’ center Mason Plumlee, who was procured in the aforementioned 2017 trade. What did it cost Denver, you ask? Just Jusuf Nurkic and a first-round pick.

Nurkic was a 2014-15 All-Rookie second team member. He played 139 games over 2.5 seasons in Denver, averaging 7.5 points and 5.9 rebounds in approximately 18 minutes per game. He showed serious promise, but Denver had numerous reasons to pursue a trade: he’d suffered a few relatively serious injuries early in his career (and he’s continued to be injury-prone in Portland), butted heads with head coach Michael Malone and – most importantly – the Nuggets stumbled on to Nikola Jokic.

The Nuggets eventually attempted a twin-tower strategy with both in the starting line-up, but that experiment was short-lived — with Jokic ultimately asking to move to the team’s second unit.

The Nuggets traded Nurkic to the Portland Trail Blazers in February 2017 (along with a first-round pick) in exchange for Plumlee, a second-round pick and cash considerations. Ironically, the first-round pick included in the deal became Justin Jackson, who was used to procure another center, Zach Collins – but more on that in a bit.

As of February 2017, Plumlee was considered the better player of the two. He was averaging a career-high 11 points, 8.1 rebounds and 4.0 assists through 54 games – but it was clear that at 27, he’d already maximized his talent.

Conversely, Nurkic was only 23 at the time of the trade with significant, untapped upside. In his first few seasons with Portland, Nurkic averaged 15 points and 9.8 rebounds per game, while establishing himself as a rising star. As noted above, injuries have continued to be a problem. Nurkic suffered a compound fracture in his tibia and fibula in March 2019, forcing him to miss a majority of this current campaign. The COVID-19-related play stoppage in March gave Nurkic extra time to get his body right, and he returned to action in July inside the bubble.

And he did so with a vengeance. Nurkic demonstrated superior strength and footwork, and he flashed the dominance that Portland hoped he would develop, posting eight double-doubles in 18 contests. He averaged 17.6 points and 10.3 rebounds per game and while his play dipped a bit in the playoffs – partially due to a matchup with first-team All-NBA star Anthony Davis – he still managed 14.2 points and 10.4 rebounds in the five-game series. So it’s fair to say that Nurkic is still on his way toward stardom.

But the Nuggets are in the conference finals – so all’s well that ends well, right? Not so fast. To his credit, Plumlee is exactly who Denver expected him to be. He’s averaged 7.5 points and 5.5 rebounds per game in three seasons with Denver since 2017 – but to be fair, Plumlee is asked to do less in Denver than he had in Portland. Still, it’s fairly obvious that they’re just not that comparable.

Plumlee is a good passer and an above-average defender that’ll compete hard and isn’t afraid to get dirty – but he has limitations. He doesn’t stretch the floor and he is a sub-par free throw shooter (53.5 percent in 2019-20). More importantly, he’s simply not a major offensive threat and his repertoire of moves is limited.

High-level takeaway: Defenses tend to game plan for opponents they view as major threats – Nurkic falls into this category. Other guys pack the stat sheet through putback attempts, open looks and single coverage alongside the guys for whom opposing defenses game plan – that’s a more appropriate description of Plumlee.

On to the wrench thrown in by Zach Collins’ involvement. Statistically, Collins is about as effective as Plumlee – he averaged 7 points and 6.3 rebounds through only 11 games in 2019-20 due to various injuries – and he possesses more upside. The 22-year-old is not as reliable as Plumlee but given his age and skill set, he’s a far better option as a support player playing off the bench. He stretches the floor (36.8 percent on three-point attempts in 2019-20), is an above-average free throw shooter (75 percent this season) and is a good defender. Looking past Nurkic for a moment, would the Nuggets prefer a 22-year-old center that stretches the floor and defends or a 30-year-old energy guy?

Regardless of your answer to that question, it’s hard to argue that Nurkic should have returned more than Plumlee, definitely so when you factor in the first-round pick Denver included. There is obviously more at play: Denver was probably considering trading Nurkic for some time before they acted – did they feel that they could increase his trade value prior to the trade deadline in 2016-17? Maybe. Further, Nurkic and his agent could have influenced the Nuggets’ decision at the 2017 deadline, threatening to stonewall Denver in negotiations.

Had Nurkic been more patient or the Nuggets acted sooner before it became abundantly clear that he was on the move, Denver’s roster could be even more stacked than it is now. Ultimately, the Nuggets have a plethora of talent and will be fine – while it appears that Nurkic found a long-term home in Portland, where he owns the paint offensively. Denver can’t be thrilled about assisting a division rival, but they’re still in an enviable position today and should be for years to come.

But despite that, this deal should go down as a cautionary tale – it’s not only the bottom feeders of the league who make missteps. Even the savviest of front offices overthink deals. Sometimes that works in their favor, and other times it does not.

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NBA Daily: They Guessed Wrong

Matt John reflects on some of the key decisions that were made last summer, and how their disappointing results hurt both team outlooks and players’ legacies.

Matt John

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It doesn’t sound possible, but did you know that the crazy NBA summer of 2019 was, in fact, over a year ago? Wildly, in any normal, non-pandemic season, it all would have been over three months ago and, usually, media days would be right around the corner, but not this time. The 2019-20 NBA season is slated to end sometime in early to mid-October, so the fact that the last NBA off-season was over a year ago hasn’t really dawned on anyone yet. Craziest of all, even though there will still be an offseason, there technically won’t be any summer.

Coronavirus has really messed up the NBA’s order. Of course, there are much worse horrors that COVID-19 has inflicted upon the world – but because of what it’s done to the NBA, let’s focus on that and go back to the summer of 2019. It felt like an eternity, but the Golden State Warriors’ three-year reign had finally reached its end. The Toronto Raptors’ victory over the tyranny that was the Hamptons Five – as battered as they were – made it feel like order had been restored to the NBA. There was more to it than that though.

Klay Thompson’s and Kevin Durant’s season-ending injuries, along with the latter skipping town to join Kyrie Irving in Brooklyn meant two things.

1. Golden State was down for the count
2. Brooklyn’s time wasn’t coming until next year.

A one-year window was open. Even if neither Golden State nor Brooklyn posed the same threat that the former did when it had Kevin Durant, those were two contenders out of commission. If there was a time to go all in, it was in 2019.

Milwaukee certainly seemed to go all in. For the most part.  Malcolm Brogdon’s departure seemed a little odd since he was arguably their best non-Giannis playmaker when they were in crunch time. Not to mention there was nothing really stopping the Bucks from keeping him except for money. Detractors will call out Milwaukee for electing to cheap out by not keeping Brogdon and hence, avoiding the luxury tax. However, there’s more to it than that.

Milwaukee thought it had enough with the core it had on its roster. Coming off the best season they had put up since the eighties, they believed the franchise built the right team to contend. There was an argument that keeping Brogdon may have been overkill with their guard depth – let’s not forget that Donte DiVincenzo did a solid job in Brogdon’s role as the backup facilitator. This would have been more defensible had it not been for Milwaukee picking the wrong guy to let go. That was the indefensible part- electing to keep Eric Bledsoe over Brogdon.

Bledsoe wasn’t necessarily a bad investment. No one’s complaining about an almost 15 point average on 47/34/79 splits or playing individual defense tight enough to get named on the All-Defensive second team. By all accounts, Bledsoe earns his keep. That is until the playoffs. Bledsoe’s postseason woes have been a weight ever since he first entered Milwaukee, and this postseason was more of the same.

Bledsoe’s numbers dwindled to just 11.7 points on 39/25/81 splits, and Milwaukee getting ousted in five games at the hands of Miami made his struggles stand out even more than it had ever been. Bledsoe may be the better athlete and the better defender, but Brogdon’s all-around offensive savvy and his only slight dropoff defensively from Brogdon would have made him a bit more reliable.

Milwaukee guessed wrong when they opted to extend Bledsoe before the postseason last year when they could have waited until that very time to evaluate who to keep around. Now they face a hell of a lot more questions than they did at the end of last season – questions that may have been avoided had they made the right choice.

Now they could have kept both of them, yes, but it’s not totally unreasonable to think that maybe their approach with the luxury tax would have worked and maybe they would still be in the postseason right now had they gone with the homegrown talent. And just maybe, there wouldn’t be nearly as much of this Greek Freak uncertainty.

The Houston Rockets can relate. They got bruised up by a team that everyone thought Houston had the edge on going into the series and then crushed by the Lakers. Now, Mike D’Antoni is gone. The full-time small ball experiment likely did not work out. Since the Rockets emptied most of their assets to bring in Russell Westbrook and Robert Covington, there may not be a route in which they can become better than they presently are.

The mistake wasn’t trading for Russell Westbrook. The mistake was trading Chris Paul.

To be fair, most everybody severely overestimated Chris Paul’s decline. He’s not among the best of the best anymore, but he’s still pretty darn close. He deserved his All-NBA second team selection as well as finishing No. 7 overall in MVP voting. OKC had no business being as good as they were this season, and Paul was the driving force as to why.

For all we know, the previously-assumed tension between Chris Paul and James Harden would have made its way onto the court no matter what. Even so, Houston’s biggest obstacle in the Bay Area had crumbled. If they had just stayed the course, maybe they’re still in the postseason too.

To their credit, none of this may have happened had it not been for the Kawhi Leonard decision. Had he chosen differently, the Thunder never blow it up, and Houston might have very well been the favorite in the Western Conference. Instead, the Rockets took a step back from being in the title discussion to dark horse. But at least they can take pride knowing that they weren’t expected to win it all – the Clippers can’t.

Seeing the Clippers fall well short expectations begs the question if they too got it wrong. The answer is, naturally: of course not. They may have paid a hefty price for Paul George, but the only way they were getting Kawhi Leonard – one of the best players of his generation – was if PG-13 came in the package. As lofty as it was, anyone would have done the same thing if they were in their shoes. They didn’t get it wrong. Kawhi did.

On paper, the Clippers had the most talented roster in the entire league. It seemed like they had every hole filled imaginable. Surrounding Leonard and George was three-point shooting, versatility, a productive second unit, an experienced coach – you name it. There was nothing stopping them from breaking the franchise’s long-lasting curse. Except themselves.

Something felt off about them. They alienated opponents. They alienated each other. At times, they played rather lackadaisically, like the title had already been signed, sealed, and delivered to them. The media all assumed they’d cut the malarkey and get their act together – but that moment never really came. They had their chances to put Denver away, but even if they had, after seeing their struggles to beat them – and to be fair Dallas too – would their day of destiny with the Lakers have really lived up to the hype?

Even if it was never in the cards, one can’t help but wonder what could have happened had Kawhi chosen to stay with the team he won his second title with.

Toronto was the most impressive team in this league this season. They still managed to stay at the top of the east in spite of losing an all-timer like Leonard. That team had every component of a winner except a superstar. They had the right culture for a championship team. Just not the right talent. The Clippers were the exact opposite. They had the right talent for a championship team but not the right culture. That’s why the Raptors walked away from the postseason feeling proud of themselves for playing to their full potential while the Clippers writhed in disappointment and angst over their future.

In the end, everyone mentioned here may ultimately blame what happened to their season on the extenuating circumstances from the pandemic. The Bucks’ chemistry never fully returned when the Bubble started. Contracting COVID and dealing with quad problems prevented Westbrook from reviving the MVP-type player he was before the hiatus. As troubling as the Clippers had played, the extra time they would have had to work things out in a normal season was taken away from them.

For all we know, next year will be a completely different story. The Rockets, Bucks, and Kawhi may ultimately have their faith rewarded for what they did in the summer of 2019 – but that will only be mere speculation until the trio can change the story.

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Looking Toward The Draft: Power Forwards

Basketball Insiders continues their NBA Draft watch, this time with the power forwards.

David Yapkowitz

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We got some updated NBA draft news this week when the league announced that several key dates have been pushed back including the draft, the start of free agency and the beginning of the 2020-21 season.

The 2020 draft was originally scheduled for Oct. 16, but it will now likely occur sometime in November. Obviously, with the COVID-19 pandemic still wildly out of control in the United States, all of these potential deadlines are fluid and subject to change.

With that said, we’re continuing our position by position breakdown here at Basketball Insiders of some of the top 2020 draft prospects. We looked at the point guards and shooting guards last week, and this week we’re covering the small forwards and power forwards.

The power forward crop, like the draft overall, doesn’t appear to be as strong as recent years, that doesn’t mean there aren’t potential contributors and high-level NBA players available, as well as one who might just turn out to be a star-caliber player.

Onyeka Okongwu, USC – 19 years old

Okongwu is the player who just might develop into a star on some level. He was actually underrated in high school and was snubbed for a McDonald’s All-American selection his senior year. He established himself early on at USC as the team’s best player as a freshman and now appears to have turned some heads.

He’s been mentioned as a lottery pick and in some mock drafts, he’s top 4-5. He possesses a great all-around skill-set; he can score in the post, he can put the ball on the floor and attack and he can shoot. But perhaps his biggest attribute is his versatility on the defensive end. He’s got quick feet and mobility and can guard multiple positions.

Okongwu might actually play center in the NBA, especially in small-ball lineups, but he’s mostly played power forward and so he’ll probably see time there in the league. His skill-set fits perfectly with today’s game.

Obi Toppin, Dayton – 22 years old

Toppin is one of the older players in the draft, and in recent history, players that age tend to slip on draft boards. In Toppin’s case, it looks like the reverse might actually be true. He’s been projected as a lottery pick, and even going in the top 3.

He’s an incredibly athletic player who thrives in the open court. He looks like he’ll do well in an up-tempo offensive system that has capable playmakers who can find him in transition. He’s extremely active around the rim and he can finish strong. A decent shooter too, something he’ll need at the next level.

Toppin has the physical tools to be an effective defensive player, but that’s where the questions marks on him have been. In the NBA, he’s likely going to have to play and guard multiple positions. Whether or not he can adapt to that likely will answer the question as to what his ceiling can be.

Precious Achiuwa, Memphis – 20 years old

Achiuwa is another intriguing prospect. this writer actually got to watch him play in person while he was in high school and he was very impressive. He looked like a man among boys. He’s projected to be a late lottery pick.

He has an NBA-ready body and he’s got some toughness around the rim and in the paint. He was a double-double threat during his one season at Memphis and his knack for rebounding is something that should translate to the NBA. He’s a very good defender too, in particular, as a rim protector. He’s very quick and has the ability to guard multiple positions.

One of the main knocks on Achiuwa is his shooting ability. He didn’t shoot that well in college and power forwards being able to space the floor is almost a requirement in today’s NBA game. It’s something he can certainly work on and improve on though.

Honorable Mentions:
Paul Reed, DePaul – 21 years old
Xavier Tillman, Michigan State – 21 years old
Killian Tillie, Gonzaga – 22 years old

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