1) It was about 2 games too much
I'm not condoning what MWP did, giving a MMA-style hit and dropping another guy in the middle of the court. But for comparison's sake, let's look at Andrew Bynum's hip check on JJ Barea in last year's playoffs, the last really vicious hit by a Laker on an unsuspecting victim.
Examining Bynum's hit nearly a year later and knowing what we now know about him, it's obvious that it was much more deliberate and pre-meditated than World Peace's elbow on Sunday. During game 6 in Dallas, Bynum and Barea were running down the floor and while the hip check wasn't a basketball play, Drew knew that he wanted to take Barea out. JJ got back up, a little more rattled than he was before, and continued to torch the Lakers, and then the OKC Thunder and the Miami Heat in the Finals to serve as a key cog in Dallas' title run.
Bynum's hit on Barea was just as vicious as MWP's was on Harden, but the difference is that Barea didn't get seriously hurt. Yes, the intent was the same but the end result was different. I don't think the malicious nature of the blow was any different. 5 games should have been an appropriate punishment for Metta, but I can understand why they'd make it 7.
2) We're not asking the right question regarding the elbow
I've heard all the talk about if Metta saw Harden there, the angle that he swung that elbow and how he didn't pay any attention after he made physical contact with another person's skull (how does that even happen?). But the most prevailing and troubling question for me is simple. Why? Why would he ever do that?
It's pretty clear to me that MWP had turned into a testoterone-filled beast after that dunk. A PT Cruiser driven by a Nutella facsimile of Burt Reynolds could have come crashing through the ceiling of Staples Center at that exact moment and I'm still not sure that Metta would have even noticed it. He claims that he was running back down the court and celebrating a moderately epic slam in the midst of a Lakers comeback scoring run. According to Metta, his primal rejoicing got a little out of control, and in a moment of pure bliss, he clocked Harden in the back of the head.
Obviously I don't buy that. In the slow motion replay, you can tell that he sees Harden there, or at the very least, feels another human brushing up against his entire left side. Maybe he thought that James was invading his personal space a little too much, and was doing a simple elbow to his side to "clear out" the interloper. That I would buy; it happens in every single NBA game I've ever watched with guys coming back up the floor.
But Metta throws that elbow up, and completely follows through with it. He didn't just clear out space - he razed the foundation and salted the earth so that nothing would ever grow there again. Why would you ever do it like that? What possible benefit could that have? And why that action in the first place? Why not a shove or shoulder bump? Why did you choose to hit someone that hard, that quick, and in such a lethal way? This was like lighting a cigarette with a blow torch. Completely over the top.
A co-worker raised an important point yesterday that perhaps something happened earlier in the game that MWP had to retaliate for at some point, consciously or unconsciously. Hopefully, there's more to this story than we think. But there could also be no reason. Maybe Ron Artest is just insane.
3) How does this affect the Thunder in the first round of the playoffs?
Without the third piece to their three-headed monster attack, does this neuter Oklahoma City's effectiveness in the postseason? We'll get into it more in our playoff preview later in the week, but depending on the matchup, OKC losing their third-best player could spell an early playoff exit, whether it's because Harden doesn't play or his effectiveness is limited. Without him, are they better than Dallas? The Laker game on Sunday showed that when their impending 6th Man of the Year and best playmaker isn't on the floor in the fourth quarter, the offense really sputters. This could seriously change the course of the 2012 playoffs.
4) Why couldn't this have happened in January?
...when he was averaging 3.6 points a game on 27% shooting, including an incredible 16% from the 3 point line? There was a point in the season where Metta was playing so awful that we all would have considered this suspension a blessing not in disguise, but completely transparent in all it's glory. Simmons nicknamed him Metta Amnesty Peace, suggesting that it was a lock that after the 2012 season that MWP would be cut from the Lakers using the NBA's amnesty provision. In true Ron Artest fashion, he got himself suspended at the most inopportune time possible -- when his team needed him the most. A lot of people will point to the Malice at the Palace as the best example, but I think we all forget about the 2009 playoff series against the Lakers when he was the Rockets best player and got ejected not once, but twice.
5) Ron Artest, by his own hand, could have swung the title for 3 contenders in the past 8 seasons
I will be convinced of this forever; the 2004-2005 Indiana Pacers would have won the NBA Finals if not for the massive suspensions levied to Ron Artest, Stephen Jackson and Jermaine O'Neal, the three most important players on that squad. Grantland's oral history of the brawl will give you a better understanding than I could.
Aside from playing what could be his last truly effective season ever, Artest saved the season for the 2010 Los Angeles Lakers not once, but thrice; in game 5 of the Western Conference Finals (making the game winning shot), in game 6 (scoring 25 in the clincher) and of course, being the best player on the court in game 7 of the NBA Finals against the Celtics.
The 2012 title could rest on the momentum of one wayward body part. Let's say (hopefully not) that James Harden is noticeably affected by his concussion, whether he's on the court or not. Can Oklahoma City, who in many circles is the consensus favorite to the win it all, overcome Dallas, then the Lakers, then the Spurs or Grizzlies to win the Finals with a hobbled Harden? I doubt it. For better, but mostly for worse, Metta World Peace can't help but change the course of NBA history.