Fourteen years after bypassing him in the draft — a decision etched in franchise infamy — the Knicks finally signed Artest on Monday. He is 33 and goes by the name Metta World Peace. He is a bit slower, but no less tenacious. He is downright giddy about the possibilities.
“I’m getting more excited to play with the players,” World Peace said by telephone Monday night. “I’m more excited to play with the players than I am to be in New York City, you know? I’m more excited to play with the team. That’s what make me excited.”
That was four uses of “excited” in 12 seconds, as if to erase any lingering ambiguity.
The Knicks signed World Peace to a two-year deal worth up to $3.25 million, the second year a player option, according to a person with knowledge of the contract. He became available when the Los Angeles Lakers waived him under the N.B.A.’s “amnesty” option, removing his $7.7 million salary from the books while still paying him.
World Peace joins a Knicks team that won 54 games last season but wilted against the bigger, tougher Indiana Pacers in the playoffs. Bulking up the frontcourt was a top off-season priority.
A muscular 6 feet 6 inches and 244 pounds, World Peace can play either forward position. He should add defensive grit and locker-room levity to a team that was short on both. Despite his tough-guy reputation — and his role in instigating the player-fan brawl at the Palace of Auburn Hills in 2004 — World Peace is famously warmhearted and playful off the court, and popular with teammates, coaches and fans.
He spent the last several days musing on Twitter about playing in China, or in the Arena Football League, or just about anywhere.
“I’m so happy to be Metta this morning,” he tweeted on Monday, “because at 4 a.m. I turned into the Geico lizard. I was so scared I would be in NY as a Lizard!!”
As his agent Doug Davis — a Knicks season ticket holder — said later, “This is a team that could use a smile.”
Four teams, including the Los Angeles Clippers, pursued World Peace after he cleared waivers on Sunday. But the Knicks were in the lead from the start, and they clinched his commitment Monday morning in Las Vegas, the site of the N.B.A.’s summer league, where Coach Mike Woodson, General Manager Glen Grunwald and the assistant general manager Allan Houston made their pitch.
Woodson laid out his vision for World Peace in detail, highlighting his championship experience and his leadership role, as well as describing how he would fit in with the current roster. The meeting went so well that World Peace and his agents stopped the recruiting process immediately afterward.
“He was sold,” said the agent Marc Cornstein. “It was the appeal of everything — hopefully bringing a title to New York for the first time since 1972-73, about coming home, about playing with this group of players.”
In the phone interview, World Peace mentioned the allure of reuniting with Tyson Chandler, his former teammate with the Chicago Bulls and another defense-first player. He was bursting with praise for Iman Shumpert, the Knicks’ young swingman, a defensive demon who is rapidly evolving into a true two-way player.
“He’s one of my favorite players,” World Peace said, adding that he has been texting encouragement to Shumpert all season. “I can’t wait to be on the floor and watch him every night. I think he has a chance to be whatever he wants to be.”
With World Peace, Chandler and Shumpert, the Knicks could have the core of a solid defensive unit, although it is unclear how Woodson plans to play World Peace — as a starting power forward next to Carmelo Anthony or as Anthony’s primary backup.