Metta World Peace, once a Lakers stalwart, seeks another chance at 35
Don’t laugh. Metta World Peace certainly isn’t.
His attempted return to the NBA isn’t a sideshow. Neither are his reasons, he says.
“I want to win a championship,” he acknowledged in a quiet moment at Lakers training camp. “I always thought we should have had at least one more.”
Sometimes he can’t stop thinking about the Lakers’ getting swept by Dallas in 2011, Phil Jackson’s final season as coach. The Western Conference semifinals started with Kobe Bryant on a painfully sore knee and ended with Andrew Bynum’s whipping off his jersey after getting ejected.
That’s the series that bothers World Peace. It’s not the sole reason he’s trying a comeback, more like the backbone of it.
“If you can’t win with Kobe and Bynum and Pau [Gasol], it’s kind of like, that’s an absolute failure,” World Peace said. “When you compete and you lose, you always remember it.”
Lakers fans remember World Peace for the good times, mainly his key three-pointer in the 2010 NBA Finals and champagne-tinted jubilation at the postgame news conference. He breathlessly held up a Lakers-themed Wheaties box, told reporters they didn’t seem excited enough and yelled, “Acknowledge me!” when too few looked up from their keyboards. He added a “please,” lest anyone think he was being rude.
For all his kindhearted unpredictability in recent years, be it flag football games on the beach he organized via Twitter or the almost immediate decision to raffle off his championship ring for a good cause, World Peace has had a bad run career-wise.
His defensive skills gradually eroded, his speed slowing too much to help him stay in front of small forwards, so the Lakers waived him and his $7.7-million salary via the “amnesty provision” in July 2013, a move that saved millions in luxury taxes.
He caught on with New York but averaged only 4.8 points in 29 games while complaining about a lack of minutes. The only jerseys he wore last season belonged to Pallacanestro Cantu in Italy and the Sichuan Blue Whales in China.
When his international odysseys ended, World Peace returned to Los Angeles over the summer and started hurling himself at Julius Randle, turning scrimmages at the Lakers’ facility into wrestling matches that were often “comical,” General Manager Mitch Kupchak said.
The team was impressed enough by the effort to give World Peace the chance to resurrect his career at 35. The one-year contract he signed was not guaranteed. He could be cut at any time before it becomes guaranteed in early January.
Whether he makes the opening-night roster is a tough call. One person familiar with the situation said it was 50-50.
World Peace recently missed two days of practice because of a sore calf, putting the Lakers in a bit of a conundrum. They knew what he could do in the past — quick hands to poke away the ball, granite-like physique to move the sturdiest small forwards off the block — but wanted to see what he could do now.
He responded with a physical practice Saturday, trying his best to impress Kupchak and Coach Byron Scott.
If he doesn’t make the team, there will still be one playoff season to remember.
In the “Acknowledge me!” game, World Peace had 20 points and five steals in an 83-79 championship-clinching victory over Boston. His three-pointer with 1 minute 1 second left gave the Lakers a 79-73 edge in a Game 7 in which points arrived with severe difficulty and Kobe Bryant made only six of 24 shots.
World Peace later raised about $600,000 for mental-health awareness by raffling off his ring and then won the NBA’s citizenship award in 2011.
When he was waived by the Lakers, World Peace responded by thanking Kupchak on Twitter and announcing he would take up a new sport.
“I’m playing for the LA kings,” he wrote, par for World Peace’s course after he wore a blue Cookie Monster T-shirt to end-of-season meetings a few months earlier with Kupchak and former coach Mike D’Antoni.
Times are a little more serious in World Peace’s career. The opportunities are running out.
“People never thought I would put the uniform back on,” he said. “Having a chance is pretty cool.”
Bryant will probably play in the Lakers’ exhibition opener Sunday against Utah at the University of Hawaii. “If I had to guess right now I would say, ‘Yeah, he’s going to play,’” Scott said. It obviously doesn’t count in the standings but would be Bryant’s first game activity since he sustained a torn rotator cuff Jan. 21 against New Orleans. ... Scott was relieved to have D’Angelo Russell going full-bore at Saturday morning’s practice after the rookie had been slowed by a bone bruise in his right foot. “I still think he’s going to have a lot more ups this year than downs,” Scott said.
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