Lakers’ Metta World Peace seeks to fill leadership role


SAN ANTONIO — Metta World Peace is trying to become more of a leader.

Don’t laugh. He doesn’t while talking about it.

“It’s something I’ve done since I was a kid,” the Lakers forward said Wednesday. “I’ve always been the leader, but when I got here it was [Derek] Fisher and Kobe [Bryant], so I had to find other ways to participate and contribute.

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“Kobe’s not playing right now, so it’s definitely a comfortable situation to be a leader. I’m in better shape now, so I can actually show that I’ve improved. And then when Kobe gets back, I’m definitely assisting him. I’m the second-oldest guy on the team.”

World Peace, 32, has been taking it upon himself in recent games to huddle teammates more often at the free-throw line during brief gaps in play. He wants the ball on offense. He’s more chatty on the bench during timeouts.

“Now that Fish is gone … I’ve got to talk a little bit,” he said.

He says it’s nothing new.

“When I got traded from Indiana to Sacramento [in 2006], that team was in last place,” he said. “I got there, we got to the All-Star break and I said we were going to the playoffs and everybody laughed. We went to the playoffs and almost beat San Antonio, but I twisted my ankle.

“In Houston, same thing. Tracy [McGrady] got hurt and I started taking a leadership role. They didn’t get out of the first round in 12 years, but I helped them [in 2009]. It’s not like it’s something I’m unfamiliar with.

“I’ve been in situations where they had to double-team, sometimes triple-team me, and I’ve had to focus and get my team together and win games. I’ve been in this situation before.”

World Peace scored 26 points, his most in three seasons with the Lakers, in a 98-84 victory Wednesday against San Antonio.

He had 19 points Saturday against Phoenix and 23 the game before that against Houston.

He was almost euphoric in a quiet corner of the locker room Wednesday as reporters waited to talk to Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol at the other end.

He revealed how he battled nerve damage in his lower back last season that made it difficult to control his feet, almost as if they were in slow motion.

Proper treatment couldn’t be had for several months, he said, because of an NBA lockout rule in which players and team personnel could not contact each other.

He said it’s why he showed up out of shape to training camp, but he credited Lakers trainer Gary Vitti and team physical therapist Judy Seto for physically manipulating his back almost daily.

He laughs at the fact he can dunk again, among other things.

“I didn’t think I’d be able to do that anymore, but the trainers are unbelievable,” he said. “I’m not done. I’m not washed up.”