|You will not be seeing this man any time soon. (Getty Images)|
You're going to see a lot of discussion about intention today. As Ken Berger of CBSSports.com notes, intention is only a small part of what the league will evaluate when it hands down what is likely to be a multi-game suspension for the artist formerly known as Ron Artest, currently known as Metta World Peace. The cockback, follow-through, and behavior after leveling James Harden, all of these things will play as significant a role in determining MWP's punishment.
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The impact of the elbow seen 'round the world Sunday is huge on several levels. But before any of it comes the health of James Harden. Harden cleared concussion testing at half-time and was set to rejoin the Thunder in the second half, before symptoms emerged and he went back to the locker room. This is no attempt by the Thunder staff to undermine the process, this is the reality when dealing with brain injuries.
Despite all our medical advancements, we still don't understand the brain. And as a result, our understanding of concussions is still rudimentary. Tracking the synaptic and chemical changes made from trauma is just not something we're really in a position to do, and certainly not on the spot with a few worded questions. The brain is much more tricky than that. Harden could be fine in three days, ten days, two weeks. He could still suffer from memory loss and cognitive function issues in two months, a year. That's not the result of the severity or velocity of World Peace's swing, that's the reality when we talk about concussions and brain trauma. There are far more important things on the line here than the Thunder's playoff positioning or Harden' ability to run the pick and roll. Injuries of this nature can cause serious long-term damage. Thankfully, that doesn't seem to be the indication for Harden.
When Kermit Washington lunged forward with his fist full extended and connected with Rudy Tomjanovich in 1977, the NBA changed. Tomjanovich arrived at the hospital and was informed that doctors would have to operate immediately to save his life. Tomjanovich could very easily have died from that hit. Washington's career was never the same as outlined in John Feinstein's "The Punch," and neither was Tomjanovich's. That event, along with a series of incidents in the 70's and 80's, is why the league has been so proactive in changing the culture and "softening" the league. It has to be done, not to protect the game, but to protect the lives of players. If a player turns the wrong way into impact, if he's caught in a bad set of circumstances and physics upon impact, the effects can be devastating.
That's why the league must punish World Peace so harshly.
There are those that want him banned for the rest of the year because of his prior history. But in judging the punishment, World Peace is entitled to the same consideration as everyone else when it comes to the difficulty of intent, the circumstances surrounding the impact, and his behavior before and after. But that isn't to say the NBA should not fully set out to impact MWP financially, and the Lakers from a player availability standpoint. World Peace did not celebrate, then move towards the baseline thumping his chest, hoping Harden or another Thunder player would come up behind him. He did feel contact. He did swing with purpose, if not intent. I've no doubt that World Peace did not mean to hurt Harden. It takes an entirely different approach to do so. But he acted with reckless abandon despite being made aware by the league of what the effects can be, and for that there has to be punishment.
Too light and you run the risk of not making the point. Too severe and you're losing justice in a thirst for blood of the guilty. It's not an enviable spot in this situation for Stu Jackson and David Stern's office. But there has to be a tangible impact.
Most specifically, the league needs to set a precedent based not only on this incident, but in advance of a growing concern regarding the physical play headed towards the playoffs. Both Blake Griffin and Derrick Rose have spoken of excessive hits they've taken on fouls in recent weeks. Now, players complain about fouls and that happens all the time, but the two young players have been so adamant, that their teammates have spoken of protecting them. That sets up a dangerous situation regarding retaliation. It's never the first act that sets things into chaos. It's the reaction to that first act, but the first act is the source. Thankfully cooler heads prevailed for the Thunder yesterday after Serge Ibaka was more than prepared to take on MWP there on the court. (The fact that World Peace showed no concern for Harden and instead was more than prepared to go at Ibaka at that moment should also be noted and does not look good.)
A five-game suspension is just about right. Kevin Love received only a two-game suspension for his kick to the head of Luis Scola, but that play was in the course of basketball, not during a celebration while the other team was inbounding. Andrew Bynum received a four-game suspension for smashing J.J. Barea out of the air in last year's playoffs with reckless abandon. The impact must be felt for MWP and the Lakers not only in terms of games and playing time, but in playoff impact. The Thunder's playoffs have certainly been affected, with Sunday's double-overtime win for the Lakers essentially locking up the No.1 overall seed for the Spurs and benefitting the Lakers. Four games and you allow World Peace to play the majority of a seven-game first-round series. Seven and you're dancing with reacting too much to the impact on Harden and not on the implicit danger of the act itself. Whatever the league decides, it needs to set that standard and hold to it.
The elbow Metta World Peace delivered Sunday wasn't dangerous because it was Ron Artest from the Malice at the Palace. It was dangerous because of what we know about concussions, because of the velocity and form of the swing, because of the reckless disregard for his fellow player's safety. World Peace is isn't a villain. But he's certainly disgraced the game this week.