Mar 22, 2013; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Los Angeles Lakers small forward Metta World Peace (15) goes for a loose ball during the first half of the game against the Washington Wizards at the Staples Center. Mandatory Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports
(USA TODAY) -- Los Angeles Lakers small forward Metta World Peace will have left knee surgery that will keep him out at least six weeks, the team announced Wednesday.
That's the way the official release from the team read, and no one can blame the Lakers for not using the phrase "season-ending," since NBA teams technically still will be playing by the time their most under-appreciated starter is ready to come back. But with the way things have been going of late, and for the better part of five months, really, the Lakers - who have lost their last three games and are just one game ahead of Utah and Dallas for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference - should be a month into their offseason vacation time by then.
Of all the setbacks this presumed super team has suffered in this not-so-super season, it's tough to see them recovering from this one if the timetable holds up - especially considering the second round of the postseason will be coming to an end six weeks from now.
World Peace, who tore his lateral meniscus in Monday night's loss at the Golden State Warriors, had been the healthiest of the starters until now while playing in 70 of 71 games. Point guard Steve Nash missed seven weeks earlier this season because of a fracture in his left leg, forward Pau Gasol has been out for 33 of 71 games because of knee and foot ailments, and center Dwight Howard has played in 65 games but has been slow to recover from his April back surgery. Kobe Bryant has played in 69 games.
"We just can't seem to get any traction," Lakers coach Mike D'Antoni told reporters at Wednesday's shootaround. "But, besides that, nobody is feeling sorry for us, and we got plenty (of talent) to win anyway. So let's just do what we're supposed to do and go out and play as hard as we can and see what happens."
Howard, who has become close with World Peace during his first season with the Lakers, was as disappointed as anyone to see him go down.
"I was hurt because Metta, he's been strong all year," Howard told reporters at the team's shootaround. "He hasn't really had that many problems and then he gets hit with a serious injury. It just seems like all year when somebody comes out (off the injured list), somebody does down. So, it's kind of tough and to see Metta go down, it kind of hurt."
D'Antoni already was short of the shooters needed in his spread offense system as it was, and World Peace was as adequate as they came on this mismatched roster. His 34.7% from three-point range wasn't spectacular, but it was sometimes enough to make room for Dwight Howard down low while offering an occasional alternative to the Kobe Bryant isolation sets that are hardly efficient in their own right.
World Peace shot more threes than any other Laker (5.6 a game to boost his 12.8-point scoring average). Defensively, he wasn't Ron Artest from yesteryear, but he was tireless, as aggressive as ever and hardly the root of the problems on that end that have plagued the Lakers all year long. D'Antoni told news reporters that Jodie Meeks would become the starting shooting guard and Bryant would move to small forward in World Peace's absence.
This, it seems, is more than likely the death of the Lakers' starting five that had so much potential on paper when it came together last summer. The Lakers may choose to use their amnesty clause on World Peace this summer to help with the team's bloated payroll, or World Peace could be back on a new, cheaper deal if he chooses to terminate his contract (he has that option) and re-sign. Forward Pau Gasol is widely expected to be on the trading block yet again, too, and Howard's free agency future remains unknown as well.
While it's indisputable that Nash, Bryant, World Peace, Gasol, and Howard were underachievers as a unit, the truth is that they hardly had a chance to work through some of those unforeseen chemistry issues because of serious injuries to Gasol and Nash. According to NBA.com, that lineup only played 189 of the Lakers' 3,418 combined minutes this season.
They were better than their foes on average, with an offensive efficiency rating (points per 100 possessions) of 108.9 as compared to the 104.2 points per 100 they allowed on the other end. Yet lest anyone glean too much from that fact and have misguided visions of championship-caliber play, consider this: The starting five that finished last season's Finals for the Miami Heat - LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Mario Chalmers, Chris Bosh and Shane Battier - has posted an offensive rating of 117.2 and a defensive rating of 97.6 this season in 291 minutes.