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Metta World Peace’s goal? ‘Just to be one of the best again’

Wide-open on a fast-break, it appeared nothing could stop Metta World Peace.

Hardly any defenders stood nearby. He hadn’t dribbled the ball aimlessly, a sequence that in the past made such a play appear as if the Lakers’ forward became a bull in a china shop. The rim remained the only object that could stop World Peace.

Somehow it did. World Peace went up for the dunk, but missed because he couldn’t reach the rim. That third quarter play epitomized all too well the Lakers’ embarrassment in their 122-86 Game 4 loss to the Dallas Mavericks in the 2010 Western Conference semifinals. But for World Peace, it gave him a clear indication that his NBA career would soon end.

“I figured it would be once my contract is up [after the 2013-14 season],” World Peace told The Times in an interview after a workout at UCLA. “I thought I would be on the decline.”

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It’s debatable whether that’s still happening. His 7.7 points per game average on 39.4% shooting last season marked a career-low in his 14-year career. The Lakers have found it nearly impossible to trade the team’s eccentric, unpredictable forward and his two-year, $15-million contract.

World Peace lauded Steve Nash’s arrival, describing the elite guard with plaudits on his smarts (“One of the more intelligent players on the team”) demeanor (“He has a mean streak”) and his career 42% mark from three point range (“He can hit big shots.”). But World Peace conceded the obvious that he will have to “sacrifice” and find ways to be effective when he probably will be the last offensive option.

Yet, the Lakers declined to use their “amnesty” provision before Tuesday’s deadline, a tool that most likely would have resulted in World Peace’s dismissal. His agent, David Bauman, recently told The Times he sensed in conversations with General Manager Mitch Kupchak that it was a strong possibility that would happen until World Peace averaged 14.07 points per game through April. At that point, World Peace had finally rid himself of the excess weight he carried into training camp. He also had fully rehabbed from a nerve issue in his back that the Lakers training staff found, an issue World Peace retroactively realized had been bothering his back and legs “for years.”

“Last year I started to dunk the ball, but that’s only the tip of the iceberg,” World Peace said. “I wasn’t even peaking. That was only the tip. That was only a little taste of what I could do.”

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So what are you envisioning now?

World Peace paused a few seconds before blurting out, “Wow,” World Peace said. “Just to be one of the best again.”

The best on defense?

“No,” World Peace answered. “The best in the league.”

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Before the obvious rebuttal comes, World Peace brings up how he’s capable of replicating his 2003-04 season in Indiana, when he won defensive player of the year honors and averaged 18.3 points per game. He mentions how his current weight (255 pounds) marks a stark difference from when he entered training camp last season (270) because his back issue allows him to train extensively. Even though he practiced with Tuesday a handful of D-League and high school players, World Peace says the conditioning drills show he will be more effective next season.

“I’m getting to the basket any time I want,” World Peace said. “I couldn’t do that for years. I would miss layups. I missed so many layups. It was ridiculous. I’d be right under the basket and I can’t jump. Then I’d get blocked and miss a layup. Then I’m trying to pray for a foul. But later in the season, I was able to get it and dunk.”

But that’s when everything came crashing down.

His highlight of averaging 16.8 points during Kobe Bryant’s seven-game absence because of a shin injury soon went to waste. On April 22, World Peace admitted feeling angry over supposed “disrespect” Oklahoma City Thunder players had given him about his game. Thunder center Kendrick Perkins swiped at his nose. World Peace said he also took offense to them calling Pau Gasol “soft.” So when World Peace threw down his third dunk of the game with 1:39 remaining in the second quarter, he admitted his emotions soon spiraled out of control. He clocked James Harden with a vicious elbow. World Peace earned a seven-game suspension. And he invited criticism that his efforts in rehabbing his image and supporting mental health charities went to waste.

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“It was a unique situation how we wound up in the same spot at the same time,” World Peace said regarding Harden. “But at the same time, I was so amped up that game. I was so amped up because now I have a chance to compete against the Kevin Durants and Carmelo Anthonys again. I couldn’t do that for years. I couldn’t do that because my body didn’t let me. Now I can say I’m on this floor and I’m going to bust whoever is in front of me. I can say it again. That’s a beautiful feeling.”

As far as World Peace finding a proper balance, he kept reiterating the advice his psychologist, Dr. Santhi Periasam, gave him after the suspension.

“She said, ‘Ronny, relax,’ ” World Peace said referring to his former name, Ron Artest. “ ‘Just play. Don’t worry about it. Just play. You’re back and let the game come to you.’ ”

Despite World Peace’s proclamations, it remains to be seen whether that will translate into next season.

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He said he trained frequently at the Lakers’ facility, played in two Drew League games and worked out at Nash’s gym in Victoria, Canada. Yet, World Peace’s Twitter account reveals he also vacationed in Vancouver, hung out at various nightclubs and hosted a family get-together in Las Vegas. Meanwhile, World Peace said he filmed three different movies and a workout DVD.

Despite his psychologist’s advice, World Peace acknowledged his ongoing struggle in ensuring his emotions don’t boil over.

But one thing’s clear: World Peace shows lots of confidence because of a healed back.

“I’m too good,” he said. “If you’re going to trade me, you may as well get LeBron [James] or Kevin Durant. Go get somebody. That’s what I was thinking from the people talking in the media. If it’s not for Dwyane Wade, it doesn’t make sense. I’m too good.”

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ALSO:

Free agent profile: Courtney Lee

Five things Lakers need from their bench

Lakers will not use amnesty provision to waive World Peace

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E-mail the Lakers blog at mgmedin@gmail.com. Follow the Lakers blog on Twitter.


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