COMMENTARY | Giving world peace a chance would be magical.
The New York Knicks allowing Metta World Peace an opportunity to play for them has Earvin "Magic" Johnson believing the Knicks are "a championship caliber team."
Yes, Earvin was earnest when he tweeted that comment last week (on July 17).
Yet before Knicks fans get too excited by that thought, it should be noted that two days earlier, Johnson also tweeted that any team signing World Peace would be elevated to the same status (although we can safely assume that Johnson meant to restrict his statement to squads that already had a good nucleus, while excluding average teams or those bound for next year's NBA draft lottery from being included in that notion).
Why Magic Could Be Right
Even though New York missed its chance to make Ron Artest a Knick out of college, the 33-year-old World Peace could still bring as much harmony to the Knicks as Johnson thinks.
Fourteen years after the Knicks used a first-round draft pick to infamously bypass the St. John's alum and local Queensbridge, New York, product for Frederic Weis (who never played in the NBA), the differently named World Peace is finally returning home as what Johnson believes is the missing piece to a legitimate NBA title-contending roster.
One on hand, Johnson may be right.
The current national television basketball analyst who cemented his legacy as one of the greatest basketball players of all time with the Los Angeles Lakers, has seen World Peace play an integral role in adding an NBA title (in 2010) to the five league championships that Johnson directed for the same franchise.
World Peace's solid game and stepping up in the 2010 NBA Finals for the Lakers wasn't lost on Johnson, who tweeted on July 12, "Let's remember, @MettaWorldPeace is a special and unique player who helped bring a championship home to LA! He will be missed."
What Johnson also sees is a Knicks team coming off of a 54-win season and an Atlantic division title, while arguably improving a bit during the offseason, even aside from the announcement of World Peace's homecoming.
Although New York no longer has its third- and fourth-leading 3-point shooters (Steve Novak and Jason Kidd) from last season, the Knicks should still improve overall with the additions of Andrea Bargnani, 2013 first-round draft pick Tim Hardaway, Jr., undrafted rookie C.J. Leslie, and, specifically, World Peace.
With that group complementing mainstays Carmelo Anthony, J,R Smith, Raymond Felton, Tyson Chandler, Iman Shumpert, Amar'e Stoudemire, Pablo Prigioni and Kenyon Martin, New York figures to be an even deeper and perhaps better team next season.
During last season's playoffs, the Knicks were exposed most on the boards and defensively along their front line, particularly against the bigger and rougher Indiana Pacers.
A former Pacer himself (from 2001-2006), World Peace should help close the gap in that area for New York with the toughness, tenacious defense, physical play and rebounding that he'll provide for the Knicks.
He can also step out and make the occasional 3-pointer, something that World Peace should have more of an opportunity to do in an offensive scheme that led the league in both 3-point attempts and makes last season.
World Peace's biggest value to New York, though, will be in two other areas.
While he outweighs Anthony by about 25 pounds (260-235), despite being only an inch shorter (at 6-foot-7) than his fellow New York City native, World Peace will expect to see significant time at the small forward position.
That will allow Anthony -- last season's NBA scoring champion -- to create more mismatches in his favor while playing the power-forward position that he's most comfortable with offensively, without having to expend more energy defensively against bruising forwards (like he was forced to do against Indiana's David West in the Knicks' season-ending playoff series loss to the Pacers, in May).
Additionally, World Peace gives the Knicks the type of two-way player that is severely lacking on a roster that otherwise consists almost exclusively of players who have strong offensive or defensive skill-sets, but not both.
Another thing that Johnson may note is that although New York didn't get past the Eastern Conference semifinals last season, World Peace is joining a team that wasn't that far off from competing with the league's best. The Knicks very nearly got their series with Indiana back to New York for a Game 7, and during the regular season, they went a combined 5-1 against last year's finalists, going 3-1 against Miami (while nearly sweeping the Heat) and beating San Antonio twice.
Finally, World Peace, who has rarely taken nights off over his 14-year NBA career, has indicated that he should be even further motivated by the chance to play for his hometown team. Eight days after Johnson lamented World Peace's departure from the Lakers on Twitter, World Peace tweeted, "NYC wow!!! It's just sinking in!!!! Am I really a knick??? Or was I dreaming???"
Why Magic Could Be Wrong
Whereas there are plenty of good reasons that World Peace and the Knicks might prove Johnson's prognostication to be correct, there are several others which might make that prediction not seem so prophetic.
Until the Heat is dethroned after winning consecutive NBA titles over the past two years, Miami will still be the club to beat in the Eastern Conference.
A talented and formidable Chicago team will have former league MVP Derrick Rose back (after missing all of last season with a torn ACL) and running its offense at point guard.
Indiana's best scorer, Danny Granger, will return from his own injury, in addition to adding backup point guard C.J. Watson and stealing sharpshooter Chris Copeland from New York.
And the Brooklyn Nets appear to have taken major steps forward by adding future Hall of Famers Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett, along with Jason Terry and Andrei Kirilenko.
Thus, it's quite conceivable that New York might be no better than the fifth-best team in the Eastern Conference.
That's especially true when considering that Smith (the Knicks' second-leading scorer last year) will be spending the next 3-4 months recovering from offseason knee surgery; that Bargnani and Stoudemire have hardly been durable in recent years; and Felton, Shumpert, Anthony, Chandler and Martin all missed significant time last season.
Why It's Much Too Soon To Guess, Either Way
Regardless of what Johnson or anyone else predicts, the East should be wide open at the top. All five of the aforementioned teams will be good but as with last year's Heat, none will be good enough to run away from the others, whether in the regular season or during next year's playoffs.
A trip to the NBA Finals representing the East next year will come down to who makes big plays at crucial times, in certain pivotal postseason games.
At each end of the floor, World Peace, just as he did with helping the Lakers their title three years ago, could be the one who produces those plays, or the player that allows for others to make them.
If that happens, the Knicks might not only be better with Metta, but they could become the legitimate title contenders that Magic already says they are.
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