Verdict on Lakers’ Metta World Peace is in: Seven-game suspension
The NBA deliberated for a long time, interviewed Metta World Peace and the player he elbowed, and announced a seven-game suspension without pay for the Lakers forward 51 hours after he sent James Harden crumpling to the court.
World Peace will miss the regular-season finale Thursday at Sacramento and the Lakers’ next six games, the league said Tuesday. He will also forfeit $347,849 in salary.
It was the 10th time World Peace was suspended since 2003, a stunning number for any player in any sport.
World Peace could miss the Lakers’ entire first-round playoff series, and if they are eliminated in fewer than six games, he will serve the remaining part of the suspension -- one or two games -- at the start of next season.
“Metta has for the most part been a model citizen both on and off the court since joining the Lakers,” Lakers General Manager Mitch Kupchak said in a statement. “Still, his most recent lapse in judgment is not to be condoned or accepted. His actions could have seriously injured another player, and his absence during this suspension will hurt our team as well. While we accept the league’s decision, we will be supportive of Metta and try to help him be more professional on the court.”
World Peace elbowed Harden in the head while aggressively celebrating a dunk in the second quarter of the Lakers’ 114-106 double-overtime victory Sunday against Oklahoma City. Harden left the game, was diagnosed with a concussion, and did not play Tuesday against Sacramento.
Harden said on Twitter earlier Tuesday that he was “solid” and “feeling good,” though the NBA took into account in its ruling that a concussion was indeed caused.
NBA Commissioner David Stern also mentioned World Peace’s past behavior. Most notably, he was suspended for 73 regular-season games and 13 playoff games after the infamous Palace Brawl at Auburn Hills, Mich., in 2004, when he was with the Indiana Pacers.
“The concussion suffered by James Harden demonstrates the danger posed by violent acts of this kind, particularly when they are directed at the head area,” Stern said in a statement, also noting the obligation of “appropriate penalties for players with a history of on-court altercations.”
Beyond losing a versatile defender who has matched up against everyone from power forwards to point guards this season, the Lakers are running out of small forwards.
Matt Barnes will not travel with the team for the regular-season finale because of a sprained right ankle sustained against the Thunder.
Devin Ebanks was also injured after dropping a weight on the ring and middle fingers of his left hand at the team training facility Tuesday. Ebanks, who shoots right-handed, sustained bruises but said he was fine and would try to use a splint on the fingers in Thursday’s game. The Lakers’ playoff opener is expected to be Sunday.
“There’s concern there,” Lakers Coach Mike Brown said. “We don’t want any of our guys out if we can help it, but Metta has to abide by what the league says. ... Matt has to get healthy, and the same with Devin.”
The Lakers are not seriously considering activating second-year player Christian Eyenga, a small forward acquired from Cleveland in the Ramon Sessions trade last month. Eyenga has never practiced with the Lakers and has played sparingly for their Development League affiliate.
The Lakers, however, received one tiny morsel of good news Tuesday. They clinched third place in the Western Conference and won the Pacific Division because the Clippers lost to Atlanta.
That rendered Thursday’s game irrelevant to their playoff position.
World Peace has not spoken to reporters since calling his actions “unfortunate” and “unintentional” Sunday.
In a brief statement on his website, he apologized to Oklahoma City fans and the Thunder organization before adding that he looked forward to “getting back on the floor with my teammates and competing for the Lakers fans.”
Several Oklahoma City players said Tuesday that they were more concerned about Harden than the suspension.
“The league did it. You’ve got to live with it,” forward Kevin Durant, the NBA’s leading scorer, told the Associated Press. “We can move past it now. We’re just worried about getting James back in the locker room.”
Center Kendrick Perkins, however, endorsed the NBA’s action.
“Just a play that was uncalled for,” he told the AP. “He could have seriously injured somebody, so I do think it was fair. Obviously, they looked at it a few times because it took them a couple days to finally give the suspension.”
Perkins speculated that if World Peace “could go back and change the hands of time he would take that play back,” and added, “It’s just not good for our league, especially on a national TV game. That highlight’s going to just keep getting played. We don’t want to be labeled as that type of league.”
TNT analyst Shaquille O’Neal reacted to the news by saying World Peace should have been suspended for 10 games.
“I don’t like to talk about ‘ifs’ but if Harden would have turned to the left a little bit, we could have had a Rudy Tomjanovich situation on our hands,” O’Neal said. “Don’t get me wrong, I’m a connoisseur of throwing elbows. I used to throw elbows all the time. But for him to say he didn’t do that on purpose? There is an old saying that goes around the locker room, ‘The tape doesn’t lie.’ I’ve seen every angle and it didn’t look accidental to me.”
Steve Kerr, also a TNT analyst and former NBA player, said the play was “so dangerous.”
“If it were from a different angle, we could’ve had a career-threatening situation,” he said. “I expected at least five games and David Stern usually cracks down pretty hard in these situations. So seven doesn’t really surprise me at all.”
The Lakers’ Kobe Bryant didn’t seem to know how to characterize it.
“I saw what you guys saw,” he said. “It’s hard to get into a guy’s head to know exactly what happened in that situation. I haven’t really spoken to him about it.”
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