LOS ANGELES— When Dwight Howard first joined the Lakers, one of the team’s top personalities was worried that the club had acquired a player who wasn’t all that serious about winning.
“When I first met Dwight, and after the first few practices and games, and then the regular season started, I thought he was joking around a little bit too much,” Lakers forward Metta World Peace said.
MWP was serving as an NBA playoff guest analyst Sunday on the local ABC “Sports Zone” show hosted by Rob Fukuzaki, joined by regular contributors– former Lakers great Michael Cooper and WNBA legend Lisa Leslie.
“But then I decided to not to judge people and to work with my teammates. And as I did get into more games with Dwight, I saw him playing hard, blocking shots and playing through a serious back injury.
“At first, though, it was a little bit frustrating.”
When World Peace talks about his thoughts on anything having to do with the Lakers, fans usually pay rapt attention to his statements.
He has become the team’s front man of sorts, reporters heading to his locker after games or straight to him after a practice or shootaround when they want a truthful answer. They don’t always get it as MWP can quickly turn into the former Ron Artest and become distant and uncooperative. But as he continues his journey toward self-awareness, he’s more and more willing to answer a tough question with an honest, thoughtful response.
Which is while he’ll be missed if the Lakers don’t keep him on the team, which is looking more and more like the case with each passing day.
MWP is in the final year of his Laker deal; once he opts in, he’ll be on the books for more than $7 million. With an enormous payroll, the Lakers need some financial relief and protection from the 2014 luxury tax. They can get it by using the one-time amnesty provision available via MWP’s contract.
He would still get his money, but the Lakers would be able to waive him and not have his salary count against the luxury tax. Steve Blake, Pau Gasol and Kobe Bryant also fit into this category, but for various reasons including age and position, World Peace looks like the one to go. The Lakers could move a re-signed Earl Clark into Mettta’s spot in the lineup, or they could use their exception to sign someone for much less money.
However you evaluate the situation, it looks like MWP’s Laker career is close to the end.
“I want to be a Laker for a long time,” he said, hoping to entice the Lakers into signing him to a long-term deal at a much reduced price. “Hopefully it will work out.”
And the man whose Game 7 performance in 2010 helped lead the Lakers to their last World title — over the hated Boston Celtics — is OK with whatever outcome takes place.
“At the end of the day, there’s nothing to be upset about. There are so many other teams out there. The Lakers are paying well — everybody is paying well. I think I have a good four or five years (left), so we’ll see what happens.”