Lakers lucky Metta World Peace’s penalty isn’t longer

Three days after Metta World Peace threw an elbow that could have killed James Harden, it is justice that is now holding its head and writhing on the floor.

World Peace has been suspended for only seven games?

The Lakers got lucky.

The Lakers got luckier than Harden, the Oklahoma City player who walked into World Peace’s animal rage Sunday afternoon and will wobble into the postseason with a concussion.

The Lakers got luckier than the Thunder, which will have to face World Peace again if the teams meet in the second round of the playoffs. His suspension could end just in time for him to mock them with his presence.

The Lakers got so lucky with the NBA’s announcement Tuesday, it is the conspiracy theorists who will now be thumping their chests and flexing their biceps.

Theory one: The NBA wants the Lakers in the playoffs as long as possible, so it was rigged for World Peace to miss only one meaningless regular-season game and a first-round series with the eminently beatable Denver Nuggets or Dallas Mavericks.

Theory two: The NBA still feels so lousy about stealing Chris Paul from the Lakers backcourt, it owes them one.

While both explanations are absolutely silly, so is the length of this suspension. For the rest of the postseason, everyone outside of this city is going to be wondering why.

What exactly were league officials doing during the two days it took to make this decision? They certainly weren’t watching the videotape, which grows more gruesome with every viewing.

World Peace claimed that the elbowing of Harden’s head was an accidental part of a dunk celebration. World Peace claimed he didn’t even know Harden was there. Replays clearly contradict both of those claims.

By the time Harden wandered into World Peace’s space, the celebration was finished. And if World Peace didn’t know Harden was there, why did he purposely cock his elbow before he hit him? Since when is an aimed, cocked and thrusted elbow an accident?

If this were about only an elbow, a seven-game suspension would have been warranted. But this was clearly a punch, with one of the sharpest parts of the body, landing on the most vulnerable part of another body.

This was about a celebration that turned caustic when somebody walked into the middle of it, the weird mind of World Peace switching from jubilation to rage in a matter of seconds. Maybe even scarier than the elbow was the look in his wild and crazy eyes as he stalked around the floor immediately afterward.

This was not something that can be disciplined in seven games, not with Artest’s history, not with Harden’s injury. This was something that probably should have required twice that many games, forcing World Peace to miss the first two rounds of the playoffs and essentially ending his chance at making further valuable contributions this season.

The Lakers got lucky, and I’m guessing the Lakers know it.

Did you hear Kobe Bryant addressing reporters Tuesday before the suspension was announced? Here’s a guy known for speaking the hard truth about his teammates, yet even he was fairly speechless.

“I saw what you guys saw,” Bryant said."It’s hard to get into a guy’s head. You’ve got to ask him.”

I’m done asking World Peace about any of this. Because, like surely many others in town, I’m now feeling like he stuck that elbow directly into my trust.

Since ripping the Lakers for essentially trading Trevor Ariza for Ron Artest several years ago, I had come to know him and even like him. I have accompanied him to schools where he has delivered impassioned, empowering speeches about mental health. I have sat with him at the Improv before he attempted a comedy routine, boldly risking embarrassment to expand his horizons.

I have visited with him countless times after games and eventually understood him as a guy who seemed to be constantly choking down his violent tendencies in an attempt to change. He would say something mean, then turn it into something funny. He would show a flash of anger, then suddenly turn it into something insightful.

I was really starting to believe he was Metta World Peace. I was wrong, and James Harden has the headaches to prove it.

He is still Ron Artest.