There's no replacing Metta World Peace.
Not because the NBA free-agent market is absent wing players who could replicate the 33-year-old ex-Ron Artest's production (12.4 points, 5.0 rebounds, 1.5 assists, 1.6 steals, 40.3 percent from the field, 34.2 percent from three in 33.7 minutes in 2012-13) when placed in the proper role. Surely, there are plenty for whom those numbers are anything but beyond reproach.
Rather, it's World Peace's personality that has no equal. Who else could cut through the constant drama surrounding the Los Angeles Lakers like he could? Who else could make you rewind the tape as many times to verify that a certain quote actually came out of his mouth like Metta so often did? Who else could fill a coffee table book with wacky quotes like his?
For the Lakers, there can be no Metta until next summer, at the earliest. Such is the price of using the amnesty clause to excise the contract of LA's favorite basketball clown. You can be sure, though, that management won't mind the $15 million in savings incurred upon his departure.
To their credit, the Lakers moved quickly to fill that World Peace-sized void with a player who, in many ways, is the most reasonable facsimile of Metta around: Nick Young. The LA native, who starred at USC after playing his high school ball at Reseda Cleveland, will join his hometown team on a one-year, $1.18 million, veteran's minimum pact, per Jeff Zillgitt of USA Today. This will mark Young's fourth stop as a pro, after previously suiting up for the Washington Wizards, the Los Angeles Clippers and the Philadelphia 76ers.
Statistically speaking, Young measures up surprisingly well against Metta. Here's how they compare over the course of their respective careers on a per-36-minute basis:
|Metta World Peace||15.1||5.1||3.1||2.0||2.1||.417||.342||.716|
And here's how they match up per 36 minutes when considering only the first six years in the pros for each (Young will be entering his seventh NBA season):
|Metta World Peace||15.8||5.2||3.3||2.3||2.5||.418||.316||.724|
On the whole, Young is more of a high-volume, "microwave" scorer than is Metta. That speaks to Young's singular ability to put the ball in the basket (however inefficiently), as opposed to World Peace, who's long been known more as a defensive specialist than as a scorer.
Even though, during his Artest days, World Peace posted four separate seasons in which he outperformed Young's best scoring mark of 17.4 points per game. Nowadays, it's all too easy to forget that, at his peak, Metta was the first or second offensive option on some really good teams in Indiana and Houston.
(Those Sacramento Kings squads on which Ron-Ron starred weren't quite so memorable, to say the least.)
Chances are, you won't see Young taking over as a top option on either end for the Lakers come the fall. He's never been much of a stopper on the defensive end and lacks the sheer beef (about 50 pounds worth) to fill Metta's shoes in that regard. With Kobe Bryant, Steve Nash and Pau Gasol in the lineup, Young will be lucky to get up 10 shots a game, whether he's starting on the wing or coming off the bench.
But until Kobe returns from his torn Achilles, Young will probably be called upon by Lakers coach Mike D'Antoni to compensate for the Mamba's absence to some extent. Say what you will about Young's penchant for weird and wild shots—an MWP specialty—but his fearlessness with the ball will come in handy for the Lakers in 2013-14.
Be it as a supplement to what Kobe would otherwise bring or as a sneaky way for the Purple and Gold to submarine another lost season in a swirl of errant shots and turnovers, with the hope of landing Andrew Wiggins next June.
On the court, it's that very tendency to vacillate between the fantastic and the frustrating, the brilliant and the heartbreaking, that ties together the spirits of Nick and Metta. They can just as easily win you a game as they can lose you one with their signature antics. World Peace probably plays "harder" than does Young on a more consistent basis, but both have a way of squeezing the most out of their minutes.
Off the court, they both stand out as eccentrics in a sport replete with and defined by such characters, albeit with Metta still taking the cake. Where Nick often goes by Swaggy P—with his coaches occasionally playing along—Artest went so far as to legally change his name to Metta World Peace! While Swaggy's busy crashing weddings, Metta spends his time making guest appearances on TV as "an overtly sexual vampire elder" and comparing Jason Collins coming out of the closet to wearing Cookie Monster apparel to a press conference.
Like I said, there's no replacing Metta World Peace. He'll be sorely missed in Lakerland, if for no other reason beyond the way he embodied the unpredictable craziness of LA.
But Nick Young comes close. And he's five-and-a-half years younger than Metta.
Which, for now, will have to suffice—and should just fine.