Metta World Peace wanted the challenge next season of breaking a 41-year championship drought, wanted the Big Apple, wanted to retire a Knick.

The former Ron Artest is coming home.

World Peace agreed to become a Knick yesterday in Las Vegas, agreeing to terms on a two-year deal. It’s the first free-agent signing of the Knicks’ summer and a difficult one, considering their salary cap woes. However, the move was tempered later in the day when the Knicks announced J.R. Smith underwent left-knee surgery and could miss all of preseason and the first two weeks of the regular season.

“I want to do something hard,’’ World Peace said at UNLV’s Cox Pavilion during the Knicks summer-league clash. “That’s the challenge of being challenged. New York is the hardest place to win. It’s been since ’72-’73 [they won a title]. Why not take on something that’s hard?’’

After meeting with Knicks coach Mike Woodson, general manager Glen Grunwald and assistant GM Allan Houston at the team’s hotel yesterday morning, the pride of Queensbridge arrived at UNLV to tell the world he’s on his way back to New York.

World Peace said China and the Arena Football League were indeed options, but he couldn’t pass up returning to the Big Apple.

World Peace said playing in China would have been “inspirational,’’ then added, “But you get to the orange and blue. The orange and blue blood. You got to come back home.’’

Magic Johnson, who has a minority stake in the Lakers — who amnestied World Peace on Friday — tweeted the highest praise.

“Whatever team Metta World Peace ends up on will become a championship-caliber team,’’ Johnson wrote.

World Peace will sign a contract starting at the $1.65 million left on the Knicks’ mini mid-level exception, with a player option for a second year. World Peace could start at small forward, playing alongside Carmelo Anthony, who would stay at power forward.

“I don’t care if I’m starting or sweeping the floors,’’ World Peace said. “I just want to win.

The move may reek of desperation, but the Knicks had to do something, considering the loss of Smith for an extended period and the Nets and Pacers having big-time summers. The acquisition of Andrea Bargnani was not going to be enough.

World Peace is 33, but doesn’t believe he’s that much past his prime. He still can defend the perimeter and hit the 3-pointer, even if he has been streaky across his career.

“Prime is just another word,’’ he said. “Heart is what it really is.’’