No World Peace could end Lakers’ title hopes

LOS ANGELES — The Lakers gave Peace a chance. Again. And now they’re paying the price for their misplaced benevolence.

With Metta World Peace suspended for the final regular-season game Thursday in Sacramento and the next six games they play after that, the Lakers have to figure out where they’re going as the playoffs approach.

Normally, Matt Barnes would pick up the starter’s minutes vacated by World Peace, backed up by Devin Ebanks and possibly even Kobe Bryant seeing some time at small forward.  But Barnes is dealing with a severely sprained ankle, and two months ago Ebanks was playing in the D League. Giving Kobe more time at the three spot is likely very appealing to coach Mike Brown, but asking your star player to play a more physically demanding position after surviving a season of injuries probably wouldn’t be the smartest move for Brown.

Plus, it means putting rookie Andrew Goudelock back into the rotation, and he’s been averaging just three minutes in his past 10 games.

Basically, World Peace’s vicious elbow to the head of Oklahoma City’s James Harden has thrown the Lakers into disarray at the absolutely worst possible time.

General manager Mitch Kupchak released this statement concerning the incident:

“Metta has for the most part been a model citizen both on and off the court since joining the Lakers. Still, his most recent lapse in judgment is not to be condoned or accepted. His actions could have seriously injured another player, and his absence during this suspension will hurt our team as well. While we accept the league’s decision, we will be supportive of Metta and try to help him be more professional on the court.”

The Lakers have continuously supported World Peace, as the veteran could have been “amnestied”— waived, with his remaining salary no longer counting against the team’s cap — after he reported to training camp overweight and out of shape. It took him months to get into something resembling game shape, and while he did his skills weren’t sharp. His offense was non-existent and he kept shooting — and missing — 3-pointers; he’s shooting less than 30 percent from behind the 3-point arc.

His defense, which World Peace says is the best part of his ability, was lacking to the point that he was ranked 192nd in defense among all players. And while Brown continued to give him minutes, hoping he’d see him start making contributions,World Peace went to the media, claiming Brown wasn’t really a good coach, just “a video guy” who looks at the stats “too much.”

It was the perfect time to send World Peace packing, but the Lakers decided to try to get something more out of their investment, so they kept him. And surprisingly he responded, playing his best basketball since coming to L.A.

In the 10 games prior to the suspension, he averaged 15.9 points and four rebounds, and was shooting 49.6 percent from the field. At the other end of the floor, he was becoming the Lakers’ lock-down defender.

For the Lakers to have any shot at winning another title, they needed World Peace to continue his great play. However, now he’s gone for the next seven games after assaulting a player who could have been seriously hurt. And it’s not the first time he’s let his team down in such a way.

Bryant stepped up for his teammate after Sunday’s game, saying that “you all know (Metta) is a sweet guy.”

Is he?

Does a sweet guy keep making serious mistakes — mistakes that detract from the hard work of his teammates, and jeopardize their goal of winning an NBA championship?