The Los Angeles Lakers have shopped for everything this summer: prospects and veterans, scorers and stoppers, notable names and less heralded ones.
Now, they might be ready to give Peace a chance. Or another chance, rather.
The Purple and Gold are reportedly pondering bringing veteran forward Metta World Peace back to Tinseltown, though L.A.’s level of interest is difficult to gauge.
League sources told Yahoo Sports’ Adrian Wojnarowski that the Lakers are “seriously considering” signing the 35-year-old forward, but a league official told Broderick Turner of the Los Angeles Times that the two parties have only had “casual conversations” about a reunion.
Either way, there’s some attraction here. And the sources for both hoops scribes all agree that franchise face Kobe Bryant would welcome his teammate from 2009-13 with open arms.
That shouldn’t surprise anyone.
World Peace not only started for the Lakers’ last championship-banner-raising squad (2010); he also impressed Bryant with his competitive drive.
“He’s the one guy that I can rely on night in and night out to compete and play hard and play with that sense of urgency and no fear,” Kobe Bryant said of World Peace in May 2012, via Mark Medina, then with the Los Angeles Times.
Maybe that’s reason enough for the Lakers to bite.
They’ve been heavily criticized for living in the past, but they’re presently paying Bryant $25 million for the upcoming campaign. To modify a popular phrase, a happy Mamba could mean a happy life in La-La Land.
That said, not everyone is buying Bryant appeasement as an argument for signing the baller formerly known as Ron Artest.
“It is hard to understand why the Lakers would even think about offering a contract to Peace,” wrote CBS Sports’ Ananth Pandian . “He doesn’t fill a hole or a need, is on the tail end of his career and more than likely won’t even play a lot of minutes.”
Some of those points are tough—if not impossible—to counter.
World Peace is undoubtedly nearing the end of his basketball journey. The last time he made an NBA appearance, he averaged just 13.4 minutes on a 37-win New York Knicksteam that ultimately paid him to go away. He split last season between China and Italy and failed to dominate at either place (19.0 points on 41.5 percent shooting in China; 13.4 points on 42.3 percent shooting in Italy, per RealGM).
Save for a mini-resurgence with the Lakers in 2012-13, his career had been trending in the wrong direction for years.
However, if World Peace has anything left in the tank, it’s a stretch to say he’s incapable of filling one of the Lakers’ needs.
Their depth chart looks painfully thin at small forward, even with head coach Byron Scott telling NBA.com’s David Aldridge that Bryant “will play more 3 than 2.”
For starters, the 37-year-old Bryant has logged 89 percent of his career minutes at shooting guard. That doesn’t mean he couldn’t suit up at another spot, but a move would require this old, stubborn dog to learn some new tricks.
Plus, if Bryant is the team’s most reliable option at the 3, then it doesn’t have one. He’s played only 41 games over the past two seasons combined while battling a torn Achilles, a broken bone near his left knee and a torn right rotator cuff.
As unsettling as that sounds, the players behind Bryant are even less inspiring.
Nick Young is coming off the worst shooting campaign of his eight-year career (36.6 percent from the field). Anthony Brown, the 34th pick in June’s draft, shot just 43.1 percent from the field at Stanford last season.
Even the most ardent Lakers supporter would have a hard time mustering more than a “meh” reaction to that duo. Pulling players from other positions doesn’t help much, either.
Ryan Kelly has posted a 10.7 player efficiency rating (league average is 15.0) over his first two seasons. Jonathan Holmes is an undrafted rookie with a partially guaranteed contract. Jabari Brown has 19 NBA games under his belt and no guaranteed contract. Michael Frazier, another undrafted rookie, is a 6’4″ one-trick shooter with only $50,000 in guaranteed money, per Eric Pincus of the Los Angeles Times.
Is there really zero chance that World Peace could crack the rotation? And don’t forget, he could find minutes as a floor-spacing 4.
Julius Randle made it 14 minutes into his rookie season before suffering a year-ending broken leg. That’s 14 more minutes than first-round pick Larry Nance Jr. has logged. Veteran Brandon Bass is steady, but he can’t stretch the floor the way World Peace can.
As Synergy Sports Technology observed, World Peace shot it well during his brief run in Italy.
And, as Sporting News’ Adi Joseph quipped, it wasn’t that long ago that World Peace gave the Lakers good minutes.
That Lakers squad went 45-37, and it never played better than when World Peace was on the floor. With him, L.A. outscored opponents by 4.9 points per 100 possessions. Without him, the Lakers were outscored by 3.2 points per 100 possessions.
No one on that team had a higher on-off split. And, for a refresher, that roster featured Bryant, Dwight Howard, Pau Gasol, Steve Nash and Antawn Jamison, among others.
Days can feel like decades in today’s sports world, but World Peace shined for these same Lakers just three seasons ago. If his body cooperates, it isn’t hard to imagine him providing crafty, disruptive defense and an occasional three-point shooting barrage.
How many of L.A.’s current small forward possibilities can bring both of those assets inside the lines? Bryant can, provided he’s healthy. After him, there isn’t a comfortable answer to that question.
World Peace wouldn’t necessarily be the solution.
He hasn’t shot above 41.4 percent from the field since 2007-08, and his PER hasn’t been higher than 12.5 since 2008-09. The athleticism he’s lost over the years would limit his defensive impact, and he’s always been a streaky gunner from distance.
But the Lakers wouldn’t place him in a prominent role nor need to pay him like he’s filling one. They’d just ask for some assistance, and he could at least offer that.
He would bring fire to a defense that finished a woeful 29th in efficiency last season. Even if he didn’t play much, he could contribute by holding L.A.’s young prospects accountable.
“If someone is not playing defense or not giving effort, that’s my specialty,” World Peace said last November, via Marc Berman of the New York Post. “I don’t hold back on my words.”
The Lakers already have one no-holds-barred talker in Bryant. Adding a second brutally honest voice to the discussion could help toughen their exterior and prepare them for the first chapter of the post-Mamba era.
Teams don’t typically change their fortune this late in free agency, and this situation would not be the exception. But that’s not the standard here.
World Peace, who was amnestied by the Lakers in 2013, would almost assuredly be guaranteed nothing. Given where he’s at in his career and how many players are already on this roster, he’d likely be extended only a non-guaranteed contract.
With such little risk, the answer to whether World Peace could help the Lakers is clear. Among his toughness, experience, defensive intensity and versatility, he’d bring at least one thing to the table that this revamped roster is missing.