Given Metta World Peace's shaky track record and disappointing 2011-12 season, you might figure he'd slot as an easy write-off heading into the Los Angeles Lakers' 2012-12 season, but the 13-year veteran has a lot left in the tank.
For a mercurial player who has been plagued by controversy and unmet expectations during a tumultuous NBA career, you also might think the addition of two future Hall Of Famers to the Lakers' starting five might set him into a coasting mode -- set to ride the coattails of four perennial All-Stars to a (possible) NBA Championship -- but it has actually done the opposite for The Artist Formerly Known As Ron Artest. The Lakers forward used his offseason to refocus, recharge and reinvent himself heading into what is shaping up to be the team's most promising season in years.
The forward struggled in 2011-12. He averaged under 10 points per game for the first time in his career, all but disappeared in the NBA Playoffs and even considered retirement at one point.
But this year, World Peace came into Lakers camp nearly 20 pounds lighter than he did last year, and is noticeably slimmer and more cut than he was at any point during the team's 2011-12 campaign.
He's given credit to Tim DiFrancesco, the Lakers' strength and conditioning coach, for guidance with an offseason training regimen. World Peace devised a three-step program (via mind, body and family commitment) to help himself during the break and set an example for others, as he led walks in New York, Nashville and Los Angeles this summer. He's pulled said commitment to healthy living into an example for others via mwpworkout.com with the hope of inspiring fans and others interested in fitness to get in shape.
"The thinking behind that was just healthy living," he said. "I got with this company, and this training exercise that I've been doing has been really amazing ... a lot of couples out there can do that [walk/exercise] together, just walking together and getting in shape together, and it kind of just changed my perspective on health and getting in shape and just enjoying my career and my craft."
In 2012-13, that craft will likely be moving without the ball, knocking down open jumpers created by the Lakers' new hybrid Princeton offense and four starters who could each command a double team, and staying focused and driven as the fifth option on a team that is carrying the weight of lofty expectations.
That craft -- and especially the "staying focused and driven" part -- would seem to be a tall order for the Metta World Peace of last year, or the year before, or the Metta World Peace NBA fans think we know.
But maybe the Metta World Peace we think we know isn't the real Metta World Peace. Maybe the newest incarnation of World Peace, complete with a renewed passion and dedication to the game (and fitness), is who he's been all along. And maybe that's why he's a perfect fit for this Lakers squad. Every team needs role players, especially role players who are willing and able to accept that role and are focused on producing in it.
I asked a former teammate of World Peace's at St. John's -- former Johnnies point guard and current TV studio analyst for SNY network - Big East Basketball, Tarik Turner -- about World Peace's mettle. His makeup. His character. And what I found was that the new Metta World Peace might just be the core of Ron Artest, reborn.
"Ron had a throw-back, hard hat mentality. The first time I met him, was the summer before my senior year, his freshman year. I immediately realized he was a different kind of player, because of his tenacity and unselfishness. There was no ego in his game. All he ever cared about was winning. The first thing that stood out was his natural strength. He was 17 as a freshman, had never lifted a weight and was easily the strongest player on the team. All he cared about was playing defense and "locking [his] man up". He actually called guys out or told guys to get off the court if they weren't playing hard, as a freshman. He changed the culture of our team."
"Things I remember about Ron off the court: he loved being around people, [was] always curious, unafraid to ask questions, never ashamed of growing up rough, would give you the shirt off his back [and he] has never changed his down-to-earth personality."
If you wanted a more glowing review of a guy who is returning to his roots and focusing on making this year's Lakers team better than they might already appear on paper, you'd probably have to make one up. What Turner shares in those quotes is the real Metta World Peace, the one only his teammates get to see. Based on what we've seen in Lakers training camp and the team's first two preseason games, it would appear that World Peace is making a concerted effort to get back to the real. And it's working.
The forward's actions have spoken louder than his words this preseason, but a few of his words shared with the Los Angeles Times recently summed up the soundness of his body and mind. A soundness we all (including World Peace) might have lost sight of in recent years.
"My discipline is going to write the rest of my legacy," World Peace said, "and I'm very happy about that."
Those are the words of a focused man. Lakers fans should be happy about that too.