LAS VEGAS — Metta World Peace is coming home.
The player formerly known as Ron Artest on Monday agreed to join the New York Knicks, the team he rooted for while growing up in Queens and has openly dreamed about playing for. It’s a one-year deal with a player option for a second year, according to a person familiar with the situation.
The Knicks infamously passed on selecting him in the 1999 NBA draft, instead choosing center Frederic Weis, because they were concerned about whether the 19-year-old was mature enough to handle playing professionally in his home city.
World Peace, who joined Knicks officials at their summer-league game against Charlotte on the University of Nevada-Las Vegas campus Monday, agreed with that assessment: “They were 100 percent right.” But 14 years and one name change later, he believes he has matured enough to thrive on the New York stage.
Now 33, he insisted his primary goal in coming home is to help the Knicks win a championship, noting that it’s been four decades since their last one. “You all know New York is the hardest place to win,” he said. “Why not take on something that’s hard?”
World Peace, who became a free agent Sunday evening after making it through amnesty waivers unclaimed, had spoken about playing for Yao Ming’s team in China or becoming an arena football player.
He said that wasn’t a joke but that now is not the right time. The lure of playing for the Knicks was too great to pass up. “I don’t care if I’m starting,” he said. “I don’t care if I’m sweeping the floors. I want to win.”
He traveled to Las Vegas from his Los Angeles-area home Sunday night and met with Glen Grunwald, Allan Houston and Mike Woodson before agreeing to the deal, according to the person familiar with the situation.
“The Knicks showed in the meeting how much they wanted him,” said World Peace’s agent, Marc Cornstein. “Obviously, the feeling is mutual. … It’s his hometown team and his lifelong dream.”
The Knicks gave World Peace the remainder of their mini-midlevel exception, which is worth roughly $1.6 million. They’ll be able to offer only the veteran’s minimum to fill their remaining four roster spots.
World Peace figures to give them a defensive-minded small forward who can frustrate scoring forwards such as LeBron James. He averaged 12.4 points last season and shot 34 percent from three-point range.
He’s not as athletic as he was in his prime, but don’t tell him that. “You’re going to get 100 percent,” he said. “Prime ain’t nothing but a word. Heart, that’s what it really is.”
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