The NBA suspended Metta World Peace seven games for a vicious elbow to the back of James Harden's head in the Lakers' double-overtime victory over the Thunder on Sunday. Did the league make the right call? Our team tackles the salient questions in the aftermath:
1. Is the seven-game suspension too long, too short or just right?
J.A. Adande, ESPN.com: Just right. It's more than triple the length of previous suspensions for throwing elbows and will effectively keep him out of a playoff series. That reflects the excessive violence of the play. Throw a vicious elbow, miss a playoff series is a strong message. Go too far beyond that and it's grandstanding.
Henry Abbott, ESPN.com: These seven games, now that it's playoff time, mean more. He'll feel terrible for letting down his teammates, who'll face a tough first round. But it's too short, for two reasons: I can't remember a more violent play. And I have no confidence suspensions will inspire any lasting change.
Israel Gutierrez, ESPN.com: Just right. Anything from three games to the entire postseason would've been justifiable given a combination of the letter of the law and World Peace's extended history. But seven games seems plenty reasonable when you consider it could force him to miss an entire playoff series, or more.
Marc Stein, ESPN.com: (A little bit) too short. Ten games would have been better than seven, to me, because I see this as twice as bad as what Andrew Bynum did to J.J. Barea in the playoffs last spring. And also because it would have sent the loudest possible message of deterrence going into the playoffs after a run of frustration fouls around the league lately. But I also can't deny that this is about as punitive as I can remember David Stern being in a non-brawl situation. Seven games is a stiff sanction.
Brian Windhorst, ESPN.com: Just right. The NBA took a long time looking at all the angles on this and there was probably a lot of discussion that went into the final decision. Yes, World Peace has a history of unruly, unexcuseable and unexplainable behavior. I felt that this punishment did take his past behavior into account and it is a penal and personally expensive ruling. But it was not excessive and not emotional.
2. Should James Harden's injury have been a factor in the suspension?
Adande: James Harden's injury should absolutely be a factor. His well-being is a bigger story than Artest's punishment, but they should be linked. Intent and follow-through are factored into punishment. Aftereffect ought to be as well. That's why I thought World Peace should be suspended indefinitely, with a final determination coming after Harden is cleared to play.
Abbott: Of course! Now we know any blow to the head can result in lasting brain injury. Of course the league is right to protect the head. A martial arts expert saw that video and told me that in his field, that's the kind of blow you use only if the intent is to kill.
Gutierrez: Not at all. The result shouldn't have been factored in, but it's almost impossible to think it wasn't. Had MWP hit Harden on the shoulder instead, it probably would've been less. But the fact that he blindly hit Harden in the head, regardless of how serious Harden was hurt, should've been the determining factor.
Stein: No. The slope gets seriously slippery if we start trying to factor in how much damage is done to the player injured. And if Harden shakes it off and keeps playing, then it's only a one- or two-game suspension? No way. Intent, contact point, threat of escalation into a multiplayer skirmish and a player's prior disciplinary history are the factors that matter most.
Windhorst: We don't know just how much the concussion will affect Harden for the rest of the season, so it's hard to judge. We just know he was hurt enough to miss games. It was an unacceptable blow to the head with the intent to injure from a player who has done things like this in the past. That alone should be the criteria.
3. For blows to the head, what should the NBA's policy be?
Adande: Blows to the head should be dealt with more harshly than other excessive fouls because of the potential long-term damage. That should be regardless of whether or not the play results in a concussion. If the NBA is vigilant about this new standard of punishment, this type of incident will diminish. When was the last time you saw a player leave the bench in a skirmish?
Abbott: The league has long been aggressive with punishments. When it comes to concussions, I suspect the biggest issue is education. Players don't want to end each other's careers.
Gutierrez: The necessary measure needs to include a definitive suspension of at least three games for any intentional and/or excessive blow to the head. That's the only way to deter it and avoid unnecessary head injuries.
Stein: The league's policy should be: swing back hard. When it's an intentional blow to the head, like this one, better to be too strict than too measured. This league is not nearly as rough as it used back in the days of the famed Kevin McHale clothesline -- which is why I had to chuckle when my beloved Chuckster was talking on TNT about what the Clippers should be doing to protect Blake Griffin and how Rick Mahorn would have handled such matters in the 1980s -- but anything involving the head still demands the strictest legislation.
Windhorst: I'm sure the league will still take it on a case-by-case basis, but I would not be surprised if this is the beginning of a trend of more serious fines and suspensions for head shots. As a country we're having an awakening to the dangers and lasting effects of concussions and you're seeing leagues from amateur to professional change their perspectives on protection and punishment. This is for both health and legal reasons.
4. How does this change the Lakers' postseason outlook?
Adande: It depends on who the Lakers face in the first round. Denver is a deeper team than Dallas, so the shortened rotation would be a bigger factor. Also, World Peace normally doesn't guard Dirk Nowitzki, so the loss of his defense wouldn't be as big a factor against the Mavericks. If the Lakers advance, World Peace's return would make a second-round series with the Thunder even juicier.
Abbott: It hurts. Not because he is such a key contributor, but because the bench is thin and this will mean more minutes for a weak player. Also, this team isn't all that young or athletic -- World Peace helped in that regard -- and the high-tempo, high-altitude Nuggets loom as likely first-round opponents. Bad time to be down a man.
Gutierrez: If the Lakers play the Nuggets, it probably won't affect the team much. In fact, it might help L.A. keep up with the Nuggets, who force the tempo regardless of opponent. If the Lakers play the Mavericks, MWP would be helpful against Nowitzki, but his absence shouldn't keep them from moving on.
Stein: There are now-and-later consequences for L.A. The Lakers first have to figure out how to beat Dallas or Denver without their best wing defender because MWP is unavailable until Game 7 of the first round. No less of an issue, though, is what sort of MWP we see after he's reinstated even if the Lakers are fortunate enough to get to Round 2. April has been the best month of basketball we've seen from the former Mr. Artest since the 2010 Finals. There's no way to know which MWP he'll be when he comes back. More dependable? In his shell? Who knows?
Windhorst: It's clear that the Lakers were a better team this season after World Peace got in shape and started contributing at the offensive end. At this point in his career, however, he is a role player, and a role player rarely defines or decides a series. Obviously they want to have him, but the Lakers do not rely on him. If they can't get through the first round without him they probably weren't in for a playoff run anyway.
5. What's your takeaway from this incident and the aftermath?
Adande: My first hope is that Harden will be OK for the playoffs and can make his usual contributions. I'm also sad for World Peace, who had tried so hard to become a better person. He undid so much progress with one wild, crazed act. But keep in mind the reason this incident received such attention is because its stands out as an exception, both in his recent behavior and in the league as a whole. Anyone who tries to cast this as the norm is out of touch with the current NBA.
Abbott: World Peace has a body that's a powerful weapon and has acknowledged mental health issues. I don't think punishments are likely to extinguish the tinderbox of danger inherent in that combination, which has a track record of producing trouble. I applaud the idea that he can learn to hold it together, likely with continued professional help, but I'd hate to be David Stern explaining to Harden's family why the two players may well share the court together again in a few weeks.
Gutierrez: That MWP remains a volatile player, and neither his name change nor his championship ring has changed the man. He'll be watched especially closely when he does return. There aren't many, if any, like him in the sport.
Stein: It'll be a lot easier to answer this question when we definitively know Harden is OK and functioning fully for the playoffs, since that part of the equation remains fuzzy. And even if Harden is back for the first round this weekend with no ill effects, it's still a truly sad episode. Sad because MWP, nearly a decade removed from what happened at the Palace, can still find the self-destruct button so easily when things are going well for him.
Windhorst: We've seen World Peace appear to lose control on the court a number of times during his career and do things harmful to others and his team. It has happened off the court as well. He has consciously tried to change his image and genuinely seems to have remorse. So when these events happen the concern you have is that he's unconscious in a way. And for a man that size that is both discomforting and dangerous.
ESPN.com and the TrueHoop Network
J.A. Adande, Henry Abbott, Israel Gutierrez, Marc Stein and Brian Windhorst cover the NBA for ESPN.com.