Once upon a time, Metta World Peace was Ron Artest, and once upon a time before that, Ron Artest was among the most feared defenders in the NBA. His combination of size, strength, quick feet and even quicker hands made him the bane of every opposing forward's existence.
So much so that he earned four All-Defensive selections between 2003 and 2009 and was named the 2003-04 Defensive Player of the Year.
Father Time hasn't exactly been kind to MWP and his game. His skills have declined considerably since he first joined the Los Angeles Lakers in 2009, and while it's hardly unusual for a veteran to suffer offensively in a new system and with a new role, his more-recent defensive downfall is far more disconcerting.
After all, World Peace's calling card, his bread-and-butter, has long been his ability to shut down his man.
All is far from lost, though. If MWP does these five things this season, he could become some semblance of a defensive ace again.
Ask Metta about his size coming into the 2011-12 season, and he'll tell you he was overweight.
And then some.
After an extended offseason of partying, relaxing and coping with back problems (more on that later), World Peace checked into training camp at nearly 269 pounds. It was no wonder, then, that he seemed so sluggish and slow-footed for much of the lockout-shortened season.
His play improved considerably as the campaign crept along and he worked himself into proper shape. By the time the end of the season rolled around, MWP's weight was well under 250 pounds and he was scoring like his 28-year-old self in Kobe Bryant's absence.
By all accounts, World Peace appears to have done a better job of staying in shape this summer than he did last year. If he can manage to keep the excess poundage off while maintaining (if not improving) his strength, he'll be back to pestering the likes of LeBron James, Kevin Durant and Carmelo Anthony to great effect in short order.
As hinted at previously, World Peace's poor conditioning last season was due, at least in part, to his ailing back. MWP was plagued by nerve problems in his lower back, which made it difficult for him to work out without encountering shooting pain.
And with the lockout in full force between early summer and late fall, he couldn't seek out treatment from the Lakers' training staff.
The situation improved considerably once the lockout was lifted and Metta could meet with team doctors again. Still, the delay in treatment was enough to set back World Peace's training schedule and leave him in subpar shape for the start of the season.
He should have no such problems this time around, now that his back is healthy and he won't be disbarred from consulting with league-affiliated medical personnel.
But with his 33rd birthday fast approaching, MWP can hardly be counted on to stay as healthy or recover as quickly from injury as he could when he was younger. As such, it's more crucial than ever that World Peace tend carefully to his body and heed its warnings at every turn to ensure that he's fit enough to be a standout defender in the season to come.
Metta World Peace is a man of many talents...or, at least, a man of many ambitions. He's enjoyed a rather busy offseason in that regard, during which he's played a police detective and an "overtly sexual vampire elder", tried his hand at stand-up again, released a 10-minute music-ish video and made a guest appearance on Nick Jr.'s Yo Gabba Gabba.
Though it was none too encouraging to see World Peace succeed by such a narrow margin against a cartoon fox and a big blue thing.
In any case, it's always entertaining (sometimes painfully so) to see Metta the Renaissance Man, so long as he restricts his non-basketball endeavors to the offseason. Things didn't work out so well the last time a Lakers star decided to involve himself in such frivolities on the team's time.
And given Metta's age, his health and his notoriously fleeting attention span, it'll be that much more imperative for him to remain focused on basketball and shut out as many other distractions as possible if he's to assert himself as a defensive force once again.
Strange as it may seem, Metta World Peace's return to defensive dominance may hinge on his ability to hit outside shots. Like many of his peers, Metta is more engaged defensively when he's, well, more engaged offensively.
That doesn't exactly bode well for him, considering he'll be the fifth option in the Lakers' starting lineup—behind Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol, Steve Nash and Dwight Howard—and would be the sixth option overall when factoring in Antawn Jamison off the bench.
The key, then, will be for World Peace to make the most of the shots he gets within the flow of Mike Brown's offense, many of which figure to come on corner threes.
Again, not a great sign for MWP. He shot just 39.4 percent from the field last season, including an abysmal 29.6 percent from three-point range.
In his defense, much of that poor shooting came when World Peace was out of shape. That being said, there won't be any room for excuses this time around, not with the Lakers gunning for a title and so many other players on the roster in whose hands the ball would be better placed on offense.
As a result, it's vital to World Peace's defensive recovery that he recoup his shooting stroke. Otherwise, his offensive touches will likely dwindle, leaving him feeling less involved in the flow of the game overall and, in turn, less inclined to defend like gangbusters.
The most important part of Metta World Peace's defensive revival, though, might also be the trickiest.
Metta is at his best when he plays with passion and intensity, of the sorts that leave his opponents shaking in their high-tops. He's known more for playing with his heart rather than his head, which helps him to get after it even harder when the pressure builds and the situation itself becomes more crucial (see: Game 7, 2010 NBA Finals).
Unfortunately, MWP's strengths in this regard also double as his most dangerous weaknesses. That is, while he's also at his best when he's fired up, such a state of being also leaves him most vulnerable to moments of stupidity and/or violence (see: Harden, James).
The key, then, is for World Peace to channel that energy in a way that better reflects his new name, to strike a balance between his constructive and destructive proclivities. That way, Metta can put his mental approach to the game on par with his improved physical conditioning and return to the business of being a defensive pest of the highest order.