EL SEGUNDO, CA — Just a few days ago, Kobe Bryant told an Internet sports site that the Lakers needed Metta World Peace to step up and be a team leader in order to move them back in a winning direction.
“A lot of responsibility is going to fall on me and Pau [Gasol], but we need Metta [World Peace]. Metta has a big presence on this team,” Bryant told Yahoo! Sports. “I really encourage him to take that role head on – and to be an enforcer with it. Metta, he’s done it before. We’ve won before together.”
Kobe said Lakers legend Magic Johnson was in complete agreement, telling Bryant in a conversation that MWP should be a take-no-prisoners type of player, like Michael Cooper was with the Showtime Lakers of the 1980s.
Sunday in Philadelphia he showed the ability to do just that. And 10 suspensions since 2003 illustrate that World Peace isn’t devoid of the aggressiveness needed to be an enforcer — just ask James Harden. But World Peace says he’s changed and the difference in Ron Artest, early Metta and his latest incarnation is a smarter, calmer person.
Thoughtful and introspective while talking to a reporter in the player’s parking lot Monday, he admitted the numerous mistakes he’s made throughout his career – and speculated about what it may have cost him.
“I’ve always felt I was an All-Star over the years,” he said, “I was just so dysfunctional that it was hard to be a consistent All-Star when you were as dysfunctional as me.
“I was an All-Star in Indiana (in 2004) and what do I do the next year? I get suspended. I was going to be an All-Star that year. I was averaging 25 points. What do I do the next year? I get suspended again and take a leave of absence and now my numbers are all messed up.
“Then I go to Sacramento, and even though I was out of shape, we went to the playoffs that year. Then I went to Houston and had a great year. I played like an All-Star, but I wasn’t on the ballot.
“Then I came here and I had to defer.” Presumably to Kobe and Gasol.
That one didn’t bother him so much, he said, because of winning his first NBA title. But he felt the Lakers became complacent after having won championships in 2009 and his first year of 2010, and they were knocked out in the second round in each of the last two postseasons.
“After (my) first ring, we (weren’t) playing together (any) more,” he said while shaking his head. “We didn’t have that collective willpower we needed against Dallas and against Oklahoma City. We didn’t have any collective willpower.
“That sums up my whole career.”
In many ways, it also tells the tale of a life lived on the edge.
One of the suspensions he talked about came while with the Pacers due to the “Malice in the Palace” brawl with the Detroit Pistons on November 19, 2004. He punched a Pistons fan and it cost him the rest of the season and nearly $5 million in salary. Then there was the elbow to James Harden’s head last season, and he was out for seven more games. He says that he’s much more at peace with himself and has worked through his demons.
“It’s true and I can admit being very dysfunctional,” he said. “But dysfunction is also function, and I got my dysfunction out of the way. Now it’s all functional.”
And he’s back to playing high-caliber basketball on both ends of the floor.
MWP carried a big part of the load in the Lakers’ 111-98 win over the Sixers in Philadelphia on Sunday. He scored 19 points and grabbed a game and career-high 16 rebounds. He said it was just time for him to step up his overall game.
“I’m all about giving an effort all the time,” said the 13-year veteran forward, who’s averaging 13.3 points and 5.8 rebounds per game. “I feel like I’m adapting well to what coach (Mike D’Antoni) wants me to do.
“It’s just about playing the game. The NBA is about actions. When you get two guys going against each other, there are a few actions you can take. You learn that there are ways to guard everything.”
He’s also learned through his many controversial moments that there are ways to say things and get your point across without alienating a teammate. Especially when that teammate is Kobe Bryant.
After the win in Philly – the second in a row for the Lakers – Metta told reporters that the team needed to spread the ball around more and not have it be Kobe dominating the offense every game. And to possibly push a few more buttons, he added that D’Antoni was responsible for letting Kobe have too much freedom.
“I’m happy Coach went back to his offense,” Metta said. “He was hired for a reason. He was hired to bring an offense in. He got a little complacent, a little bit confident, and went away from this offense and turned it into the Kobe show.”
He elaborated in thoughtful terms after Monday’s workout.
“He wasn’t doing it, and I trust his offense,” Metta said about D’Antoni. “I trust the Lakers organization and I trust Kobe. I trust everybody and we’ve got to trust each other and believe in each other, and in the last two games we’ve believed in each other.
“When Kobe shows belief in somebody, you think you’re better than what you actually are. When Kobe shows belief in us he takes our game to a whole other level.”