Los Angeles Lakers: Metta World Peace

World Peace looks back on life as a Laker

July, 12, 2013
7/12/13
11:33
PM PT
McMenamin By Dave McMenamin
ESPNLosAngeles.com
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Metta World Peace is rarely at a loss for words. His rap sessions with the media are known for being frank, wide-ranging and, of course, entertaining. He shoots from the hip and channels his stream of consciousness as he speaks, allowing his thoughts to flow out of him and into the voice recorders and notebooks of the reporters who surround him.

So, when World Peace took his time to collect his thoughts Friday, a day after his four-year run with the Los Angeles Lakers came to an end when the team waived him via the NBA amnesty provision, it was striking.

"When you think back on being a Laker the last four years, what comes to your mind?" this reporter asked.

World Peace thought in silence for three seconds.

[+] EnlargeMetta World Peace
Rocky Widner/NBAE/Getty ImagesFor Metta World Peace, an NBA Finals speech and his work in the Los Angeles community have been highlights of his Lakers career.
"Hmph."

Two more seconds of silence.

"Umm."

Four seconds, and then he repeated the question to himself.

"What comes to my mind?"

Fourteen seconds more. And then, jackpot.

"Probably Derek Fisher's Game 7 speech," World Peace said, referring to the do-or-die, winner-take-all game against the Boston Celtics to finish off the 2010 NBA Finals. "Game 7 speech in the fourth quarter, that was the most craziest thing I've ever heard in my life."

The Lakers trailed the longtime rival Celtics by as many as 13 in the second half until the tide started to turn on the Staples Center court, and Fisher's words helped bring the team home to victory.

"It was the craziest experience of my life," World Peace said. "It was like Martin Luther King, man. I'm telling you. That was like the craziest thing ever.

"Basketball is just a game. That's all it is, but at that time, you're playing something since you were 8 years old, and then you want this prize -- which is only a materialistic item, but it doesn't feel that way at all. It feels way more real. And for this guy to give a speech at a time where if you was to lose, you would probably be heartbroken and it will haunt you for the rest of your life. And for this guy to give a speech, it was crazy. It was the craziest thing I ever experienced in my life. It was the craziest thing ever. Derek is just amazing."

Fisher's diatribe might have been inspiring, but World Peace's performance was impactful. He finished with 20 points, five rebounds and five steals, and his 3-pointer with one minute remaining doubled L.A.'s lead from three to six and helped propel the Lakers to the 83-79 win.

"It's really hard to get a ring," World Peace said. "It's really hard to get a championship ring. So, the positive is we got one [in his time in L.A.]. Not enough. We should have had more, but, we got one, and I think that's something to be proud about."

Here are some more memories from World Peace:

On being teammates with Kobe Bryant: "He was very competitive. Taught me a lot, and just too, too competitive because he tried a lot to do it himself. And too tough, because he played through too many injuries. Played through way too many injuries. Sometimes he should have just took a break, I thought, and just [said], 'All right, get it back the next day.' But that's the nature. That's what we are. I came back off [knee] surgery [after 12 days]. We can't help it."

On what went wrong this past season: "Wow. I just think that Dr. [Jerry] Buss was a chemist. So, the molecules didn't quite fit up."

On whether he ever got a replacement championship ring for the one he auctioned off to raise money for mental health awareness: "Never."

On his charity efforts: "I did a lot of things in the community -- like major, major impact. I didn't do small things. I'm going to continue to work with the community out here in L.A. I'm going to continue. I'm not going to just go somewhere else and then forget the stuff I was doing in L.A. to springboard the things I wanted to do in other communities. But, the impact that we made in the community in four years, that was huge.

"We attempted to raise $250 million with [the help] of a congresswoman. [We worked] to get psychologists in schools. Big things that are necessary. That's way more important than anything that I've done here [in L.A. on the court]. That's why I'm most grateful to have been a Laker, because without the Lakers, I would have never had that platform to go into Congress and speak about all that stuff, about what's necessary and all the stuff that's happening in the world today."

On his experience in L.A.: "I still got a chance to be myself. I made a couple errors being suspended, but other than that, I was able to be myself. And it's hard to be myself, because I'm very edgy. It's hard. Even I'll be like, 'OK, [calm down].' But I was happy because I was able to be myself and not cross the line, and that's hard because I just have no filter. I have no filter."

On whether he feels like a changed man from his days as a Laker: "I don’t know if I’ve changed. I just make better decisions. I make way better decisions now in my life. Definitely."

Walking down Metta memory lane

July, 12, 2013
7/12/13
9:43
AM PT
McMenamin By Dave McMenamin
ESPNLosAngeles.com
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What's the first thing that springs to mind when I think back on two seasons of covering Ron Artest, plus two seasons of covering Metta World Peace in Los Angeles?

"I can't remember."

It was World Peace's go-to answer in the postgame locker room when we asked about anything that made him remotely uncomfortable -- a foul, a missed shot, a turnover, a referee's decision, a teammate's shoddy play.

Metta World Peace
Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE/Getty ImagesIn a word, the time Metta World Peace spent in Los Angeles with the Lakers can be labeled as memorable for a variety or reasons.
But despite all the times he feigned memory loss, for me, covering the guy was unforgettable.

He is one of the game's true characters, a living contradiction as a fierce, muscle-bound competitor with the wacky, off-the-wall humor of a cartoon character.

Phil Jackson once described him as a "na´ve, innocent lamb."

James Harden once received a vicious, violent elbow from that lamb, right in the chops.

He was capable of inspiring you -- coming back to the court just 12 days after knee surgery last season; working day and night to lose more than 20 pounds in the middle of the lockout-shortened 2011-12 campaign; opening up about a painful childhood to try to erase the stigma and discrimination attached to those with mental health disabilities and really becoming a champion of the cause.

He was capable of infuriating you -- bullying younger players like Brandon Knight and Michael Beasley both physically and verbally without prompt; mocking former Lakers head coach Mike Brown for his background as a video coordinator.

And he was capable of making you shake your head and laugh -- making one of his haphazard failed coast-to-coast attempts that made you hear the "Benny Hill Show" theme song in your head; choosing to wear No. 37 to honor the number of Michael Jackson's No. 1 chart-topping singles; punctuating a successful play by kissing his biceps and blowing kisses to the crowd.

And through it all, he gave Lakers fans a boatload of memories.

From the serendipitous 2010 playoff run that resulted in three all-time great Laker moments:

1. His game-winning putback layup (cleaning up a Kobe Bryant miss) in Game 5 of the Western Conference finals, assuring L.A. would go into Phoenix up 3-2 for Game 6, rather than facing a potential elimination game on the road.

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Lakers weigh amnestying World Peace

July, 8, 2013
7/08/13
8:08
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Shelburne By Ramona Shelburne
ESPNLosAngeles.com
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The Los Angeles Lakers have until July 16 to decide whether to use their annual one-time amnesty provision, or to give peace a chance. Metta World Peace, that is.

[+] EnlargePeace-Bryant
AP Photo/Mark J. TerrillKobe Bryant weighed in on the Metta World Peace amnesty talk, tweeting, "Personally I'd keep Metta and make a run with the unit we have and just add a few pieces #keepthepeace #lakersstilldeciding."
The veteran small forward is one of four players -- Steve Blake, Pau Gasol and Kobe Bryant are the others -- on whom the Lakers can still use the amnesty provision to help lessen their luxury-tax burden next season. The Orange County Register reported Monday afternoon that "barring some late change," World Peace and his $7.7 million salary would be released via amnesty to help the Lakers save approximately $30 million in luxury-tax fees. The time frame to amnesty players is July 10-16.

Lakers sources indicated to ESPN that the team is still weighing the situation carefully and "looking at everything."

After agreeing to terms with veteran center Chris Kaman earlier in the day on a one-year, $3.2 million contract, the Lakers have only veteran minimum contracts remaining to fill out their roster.

Lakers guard Kobe Bryant made his feelings about the situation clear. Bryant first tweeted that "No game 7 win without Metta! This is a tough day for laker nation #misspeace #newcbacasualty," then followed it up with a subsequent tweet saying "Personally I'd keep Metta and make a run with the unit we have and just add a few pieces #keepthepeace #lakersstilldeciding."

While he was at it, Bryant offered his first public comments about center Dwight Howard's decision to leave the Lakers and sign with the Houston Rockets. Bryant had un-followed Howard on Twitter and also posted a photo of Gasol and Bryant together on the court via his Instagram account after Howard announced he had decided to join the Rockets on Friday.

"I wish d12 the best honestly," Bryant tweeted. "I just find it hard to follow players that wanna kick my teams ass #thatsjustme."

Metta World Peace, broadcaster?

June, 12, 2013
6/12/13
1:44
PM PT
McMenamin By Dave McMenamin
ESPNLosAngeles.com
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LOS ANGELES -- Anyone who watched Metta World Peace's epic press conference following Game 7 of the 2010 Finals knows just how entertaining the man can be with a microphone a TV cameras in front of him.

Now a few years later, with his NBA future up in the air, the Los Angeles Lakers forward is testing out what it would be like to transition to a broadcasting career once his playing days are done.

World Peace has embarked on a media whirlwind this summer, using the exposure on the likes of ESPN's "SportsNation," ESPN LA 710 radio's "Max & Marcellus Show," ABC's "Jimmy Kimmel Live!," Time Warner Cable SportsNet's "Access SportsNet: Lakers" and the NBC Sports Network's "The Crossover" with Michelle Beadle to promote his new children's book and to explore what it's like to be one of those doing the talking rather than be the one being talked about.

"I think I’m a different type of analyst because I’ve been involved in so many different situations where I can be judged and I’ve always tried to not judge someone," World Peace told ESPNLosAngeles.com in a telephone interview.

"At one time we probably shook hands and now I’m on TV talking about this player, he might not be able to take it. So, it’s my job to try to smooth it over and I always make sure I do that. That’s why I’m always having fun, because I don’t want the players to think that I’m killing them in the media."

While World Peace is willing to do wacky things like when he gorged on cupcakes during his TWC SportsNet appearance to keep things light, he certainly doesn't always sugarcoat his opinions.

When asked for his analysis of the current NBA Finals matchup between the Miami Heat and San Antonio Spurs, World Peace did not hold back.

"Mentally, the Spurs are strongest right now," World Peace said. "I think LeBron and (Chris) Bosh they want it to be given to them. I don't think they're taking it upon themselves like a (Michael) Jordan would have done."

Those opinions will get people to tune in. And there could be a need for a strong voice like World Peace's in the near future, as the NBA's most outspoken broadcaster, Charles Barkley, told SI.com back in November that he is contemplating leaving TNT in search of a new challenge.

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Metta World Peace details his recovery

April, 9, 2013
4/09/13
8:41
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McMenamin By Dave McMenamin
ESPNLosAngeles.com
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LOS ANGELES -- Metta World Peace had played possibly his last game with the Los Angeles Lakers when he suffered a torn meniscus in his left knee in late March.

[+] EnlargeMetta World Peace
Rocky Widner/NBAE/Getty ImagesMetta World Peace began rehabilitation for knee surgery almost immediately, which he says was the key to returning to the court so soon.
The team listed his recovery time at a minimum of six weeks, a date well past the regular-season finale for a team that has no guarantee of making the playoffs. And there was no telling if he would be back after the offseason.

Yet just 12 days after surgery, World Peace was back in the lineup Tuesday, checking in to the game against the New Orleans Hornets to a partial standing ovation from the fans and without a brace on his left knee.

He had other ideas about his recovery time.

"I went online and was like, 'Yo, what was the fastest somebody ever recovered from a meniscus tear?' " World Peace recalled. "I was thinking it was going to say something like four weeks and somehow I read a week and I was like, 'Oh, then I'm the week kind of guy.'"

It helped that the surgery was not too invasive. World Peace said a "little flap" of meniscus was removed and "they're not stitching nothing together, they're just scoping."

To make his hope of being the one-week recovery guy, World Peace started his rehabilitation immediately. Even before the team was ready for him to begin it.

"I just started to do rehab once I got home," World Peace said. "Like, right away. No wasting time. And they were on the road so I had to call [Lakers trainer] Gary [Vitti] and [Lakers therapist] Judy [Seto] like, 'What do I have to do?' They were like, 'Wait till [we] get back.' I was like, 'No, I'm not waiting. Tell me what I got to do now so I can be ready to play.' And they just continued to tell me what I had to do and I just continued to try to rehab."

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Metta World Peace keeps Lakers on track

December, 25, 2012
12/25/12
6:38
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McMenamin By Dave McMenamin
ESPNLosAngeles.com
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LOS ANGELES -- So, who should get the credit for the Los Angeles Lakers' current five-game winning streak that finally has them back at .500 after a rousing 100-94 win over the New York Knicks on Christmas Day?

Steve Nash for finally making his comeback and dropping 20 assists against just six turnovers in his first two games? Kobe Bryant for his sustained excellence, putting up 30 or more points in his ninth straight game with his efficient 34 points on 14-for-24 shooting against the Knicks? Pau Gasol for staying the course and carving out a niche in the offense that was uncomfortable at first but now has him doling out six assists in each of his last two games? Dwight Howard for battling through his back injury and playing in 100 percent of the Lakers' games this season even though his health is really somewhere around 75 or 80 percent? Mike D'Antoni for sticking to his vision for the team even when they went just 4-9 in the first 13 games after he took over?

[+] EnlargePeace-Anthony
Victor Decolongon/Getty ImagesMetta World Peace's defense on Carmelo Anthony on Tuesday was key in the Lakers' victory over the Knicks.
There are arguments to be made for all of those guys, but it's tough to imagine the Lakers having the type of success they are right now without the utter transformation of Metta World Peace.

He has gone from an unpredictable, out-of-shape, amnesty clause-bound, washed-up veteran to a rediscovered cog that keeps churning no matter what adversity the Lakers have played through this season.

World Peace was at it again on Christmas, spreading his particular brand of basketball joy on both ends of the floor, scoring 20 points on 6-of-11 shooting off the bench, while also keeping Carmelo Anthony in check as best he could on defense.

"I want to say it's inspired, but this is what he's been doing the whole year," Nash said. "He pounds on the best player on the other team. He gets his hands on a lot of balls. Rebounds. Scores. Makes threes. I mean, he's playing phenomenal, he's a great teammate and he's a huge part of why we're able to win."

World Peace is averaging 17.8 points, 8.2 rebounds and 2.6 steals during the Lakers' five-game winning streak, and in the midst of it, right after grabbing a career-high 16 rebounds against the Sixers, he was asked by D'Antoni to come off the bench.

He could have whined. He could have pouted. He could have outright laughed. "Wait, you're starting Darius Morris over me?"

But the only noise World Peace has been making these days has been vocal leadership for a team that needed a kick in the pants to get things going.

"Metta has been a lot, lot more vocal," Bryant said. "A lot more vocal in helping me with the leadership and making sure guys have that intensity and attention to detail and the toughness. He's been extremely, extremely vocal."

The Lakers had all but bottomed out five games ago against the Knicks, falling behind by as many as 26 points in an embarrassing nationally televised loss.

Some of that blame for that game had to fall on World Peace, it was his man Anthony who dominated the first quarter with 22 points, taking wide open 3-pointers hardly contested by slow closeouts.

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Rapid Reaction: Lakers 100, Knicks 94

December, 25, 2012
12/25/12
2:58
PM PT
Markazi By Arash Markazi
ESPNLosAngeles.com
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LOS ANGELES -- Christmas Day hasn't always been kind to the Los Angeles Lakers. Even as they were winning five championships over the past 14 years, the Lakers were 5-9 on Dec. 25.

Even Kobe Bryant, who always expects to win, had almost come to expect a loss shortly after opening presents with his family.

Things would be different this time around. After doing their fair share of losing before Christmas, the Lakers were ready to turn around their season on Dec. 25 this season. With Steve Nash and Pau Gasol back in the lineup, the Lakers not only beat the New York Knicks 100-94 but also extended their winning streak to five games. The Lakers are now 14-14 and back at .500 for the first time since Mike D'Antoni's first loss as Lakers coach on Nov. 21. They are also just two games behind the No. 6 playoff seed in the Western Conference. In other words, the reports of the Lakers' demise have been greatly exaggerated.

Here are three takeaways from the game:

Metta World Peace’s role

Since D'Antoni became the coach of the Lakers, no player has had a more wide-ranging role than Metta World Peace. Whether it's starting, coming off the bench, being a lockdown defender or a spot-up shooter, D'Antoni has tinkered with World Peace's role. Considering some players have completely fallen out of the rotation (i.e., Antawn Jamison), it's actually not the worst thing in the world for him. D'Antoni knows the Lakers need a spark off the bench, and he believes World Peace can be that spark. Against the Knicks, World Peace provided an early spark, scoring 16 points in the second quarter on 4-of-4 shooting, and hitting all three of his attempts from 3-point range. D'Antoni actually went to World Peace quicker than he had anticipated since Darius Morris, who was guarding Carmelo Anthony, was getting destroyed. World Peace was slightly more successful but was just as important on the offensive end, finishing with 20 points and seven rebounds, before he fouled out.

Steve Nash factor

Everyone on the Lakers kept preaching patience while the team struggled and lost games. Players and coaches said that when Nash returned to the lineup, all the pieces to the puzzle would finally fit. He was the quarterback of an offense that had been run without a quarterback. It hasn't taken long to see how much of a difference Nash can make. Nash finished the game with 16 points and 11 assists and was a coach on the floor, constantly talking to Dwight Howard and Gasol about their place on the court and on pick-and-rolls. Everything the Lakers do flows better when Nash is on the court. He not only finds players open and gets them the ball quickly in transition, but his ability to protect the ball also has meant fewer turnovers and fewer transition buckets for the opposition. While Nash might not be the best defender, the fact that the Lakers no longer have to run back on defense as much after a turnover is critical.

Gasol and Howard co-existing

The biggest challenge for D’Antoni is getting Howard and Gasol to co-exist on the court. His offense doesn't naturally lend itself to a pair of 7-footers who like the ball in the post, but he will have to find a way to make it work if the Lakers are to turn around their season and be championship contenders. One of his solutions is playing Howard and Gasol separately during the game, which he did against the Knicks before finishing the game with both players on the court. Howard finished with 14 points and 12 rebounds, while Gasol finished with 13 points and eight rebounds. Gasol's running dunk at the end of the game not only sealed the win for the Lakers but also may be a turning point for both Gasol and the team. Both Howard and Gasol contend that they can play together and that they are getting more comfortable in their roles. That's a good thing, because the Lakers are simply not as good when one of them is on the bench.

D'Antoni still experimenting with rotation

December, 19, 2012
12/19/12
9:06
AM PT
Markazi By Arash Markazi
ESPNLosAngeles.com
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LOS ANGELES – Don’t look to Mike D’Antoni for any answers when it comes to fixing the Los Angeles Lakers.

You can certainly ask him; just don’t expect to get much of a response. Not yet anyway.

Moments after streamers came down onto the court at Staples Center as the Lakers celebrated a 101-100 win over the Charlotte Bobcats -- a game in which they were behind by as many as 18 points in the third quarter -- D’Antoni could only smile as he sat in front of a room full of speechless reporters.

“It’s hard to ask questions, I know,” D’Antoni said. “I feel for you. I don’t know what to answer and I don’t think you guys know what to ask but I think we’ll try.”

That seems to be D’Antoni’s philosophy when it comes to figuring out the Lakers as well. He might not know the answers but he’s certainly trying to find them.

Coaches normally hate lineup and rotation questions. They’ll tell you they aren’t looking to change anything and if they do, well, you’ll be the last to find out.

D’Antoni, on the other hand, nodded his head Tuesday night whenever he was asked about a player changing his role with the team. Whether that’s Metta World Peace coming off the bench, as he did Tuesday, Jodie Meeks becoming the starting shooting guard, Kobe Bryant moving to small forward or Antawn Jamison and Jordan Hill being taken out of the rotation. Everything is seemingly on the table at the moment and few things, if any, are set in stone.

The first domino in what could be a never-ending spiral of lineup changes this season was Devin Ebanks starting at small forward with World Peace coming off the bench and playing power forward. Ebanks wound up playing less than five minutes but the tweak and the return of Pau Gasol earned Jamison and Hill DNP-CDs and a spot at the end of the bench next to Robert Sacre’s dance party.

“I want (World Peace) to play the four,” D’Antoni said. “We have to be able to change our team. I hate it for Jordan Hill right now, because he's the odd man out. He's played well. He's a good player. But for us to have a different team, a different look, Metta has to play the four. If he starts at the three, then once I get him to the four, it's too many minutes for him. He needs rest. So that's a whole process. And I think Metta, going forward, once he gets more comfortable with the four role, will be very productive as a four and our team will be very productive.”

As D’Antoni explained his reasoning, he finally paused before saying, “That's the thought. We'll keep looking at it.”

These are the kind of thoughts and moves a coach would fiddle with in training camp or the preseason or maybe in the first few games of the season. D’Antoni, of course, didn’t have the luxury of doing that so he is doing it now, as the 12-14 Lakers try to work their way above .500 for the first time since they were 6-5, following D’Antoni’s debut with the team last month.

“I'm just trying to figure out the best way to play the team,” D’Antoni said. “We'll keep looking at film, keep revisiting it. We have a couple of practices, and we'll keep looking at different combinations. And there'll be a couple of times during the season, injuries, sicknesses, illnesses, whatever, that we'll give another look to different people. And hopefully they'll be ready. I hope they understand. I tried to talk to them and get them to understand, but . . .”

Everyone won’t understand right now because D’Antoni doesn’t even fully understand at the moment. He’s still trying to figure out what kind of team he has and he’s not the only one with questions. His players are still trying to figure out what kind of coach they have and how they fit into his system.

Even when Steve Nash returns to the lineup, D’Antoni still wasn’t sure how much that would settle things.

“Obviously, I'll have Nash at the point guard, “ D’Antoni said. “But other than that, I've still got the same little problem.”

That “little” problem is figuring out where to play everyone else around Nash. It may seem like a daunting task at the moment but Kobe Bryant, who has had countless conversations with D’Antoni about his rotations and adjustments, thinks the Lakers are closer to figuring it out than it looks.

“I'm probably the one that's enjoying this process the most because it's the most challenging,” Bryant said. “I'm focused; I enjoy being focused about something and digging my heels in and figuring out the puzzle…. It's coming. We're still going to have peaks and valleys, but it's coming.”

Practice report: Conditioning, learning the new system

November, 26, 2012
11/26/12
8:58
PM PT
Kamenetzky By Andy Kamenetzky
ESPNLosAngeles.com
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During a recent edition of The Forum, I singled out Darius Morris as the most pleasant surprise of the season for the Los Angeles Lakers. To me, Morris epitomizes an unseen turn of events, given his inexperience and how shaky the kid looked during preseason.

If I were to pick a runner-up, however, it would absolutely be Metta World Peace. I actually expected a good start from MWP, given last season's strong finish (the Harden elbow incident notwithstanding) and how playing alongside Kobe Bryant, Dwight Howard, Pau Gasol and Steve Nash would allow him to flourish as defensive stopper with few additional responsibilities. But the small forward has wildly surpassed expectations with his best offensive numbers since donning a Lakers uni, and a lot of people have wondered how.

Asked a few times Monday afternoon in El Segundo, Calif., about the effect of coach Mike D'Antoni's system, MWP insisted the uptick wasn't a matter of X's and O's, but rather improved conditioning. As a Lakers player, Metta typically arrived to camp heavy and worked off the weight, which has resulted in slow starts. Factor in last season's back issues, which went unaddressed as the lockout prevented contact with the training staff, and conditioning became a bigger issue.

This summer, one designated party month aside, Metta worked out like a madman. In Metta's mind, this more than anything else accounts for his performance. Even the wide-open looks around the arc and in the corners are a byproduct of fitness.

"Just being in shape, I'll get wide open," HE explained. "In the previous season, I wasn't able to play defense, grab the rebound, go coast-to-coast, come back down and have the energy to shoot a 3. I had the energy to miss a 3. I wasn't on balance. I was too overweight. I wasn't able to work out in the summertime. Just being in shape helped me out a lot."

Metta later noted how he feels like his Indiana Pacers self, when then-Ron Artest hit a career peak as arguably the best two-way player in the league. I asked if his current level of conditioning rivals that time. Metta said he's not quite there yet, but he's now a much smarter player than during this productive but admittedly wild period, and that maturity pays dividends.

"You look at a guy like Bernard Hopkins, at 49," MWP SAID. "He don't drink. He takes care of his body and he's still competing for championships. So you take that into consideration. It can happen in basketball, too."

Here's to hoping.

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Heat Read: D'Antoni just what the Heat want in L.A.?

November, 16, 2012
11/16/12
1:17
PM PT
Haberstroh By Tom Haberstroh
ESPNLosAngeles.com
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Editor's note: Throughout the 2012-13 NBA season we'll be asking our colleagues at The Heat Index to weigh in on the progress of the Lakers' newly minted super group. This week, Tom Haberstroh wonders whether Mike D'Antoni's style for the Lakers doesn't play right into Miami's hands.

Man, one week can change everything, huh?

Just last week in this space, we were talking about how Mike Brown’s defense would make or break his chances at retaining his Lakers job. Well, apparently the Lakers had seen enough.

Sometime this weekend, little more than one week later, Mike D’Antoni will make his Los Angeles Lakers head-coaching debut. And you can be sure that one team in particular will be watching extra closely: the Miami Heat.

In fact, the Heat will likely be taking notes to see how a potential Finals opponent evolves under its new playcaller on the sidelines.

To be sure, Erik Spoelstra and the Heat have seen plenty of D’Antoni’s offense in action. LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh got a firsthand glimpse of D’Antoni’s capabilities when they played on the 2008 Olympic team when D’Antoni was the assistant coach, and the Heat’s trio had a 4-2 record against D’Antoni when he was leading the way for the Knicks.

But that was then and this is now. The Lakers’ star-studded personnel would present a whole new batch of challenges for the Heat in a potential Finals showdown.

Namely, the pick-and-roll will be maximized with Steve Nash and Dwight Howard, a pick-and-roll tandem practically built in a basketball lab. Brown had little interest in making this the focal point of the offense. He even joked that the D’Antoni-led Suns never won any titles running it -- never mind Brown has never won a title as head coach, either.

The Lakers emphasizing the pick-and-roll could be a terrifying prospect for the Heat because, when healthy, the Nash and Howard combination could be virtually unstoppable. But it’s the rest of the players on the court who will make it easier for the Heat to play defense. You can watch D’Antoni himself describe how simple and “unguardable” the pick-and-roll can be when it’s executed to perfection.

Here’s the key: the Lakers might not have the personnel to execute it to perfection. That is, if they plan on surrounding Nash and Howard with Metta World Peace, Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol. Which they will.

It might play right into the Heat’s hands in some areas, especially when it comes to Gasol.

Sending the 7-foot Gasol to the corner could mitigate the Lakers’ size advantage over Shane Battier in the paint. If you want to hit the Heat where it hurts, putting Gasol on Battier in the post would accomplish that. But if you send Gasol into the corner, Battier can shade off of Gasol and help out in the pick-and-roll defense without worrying about Gasol.

Remember, Gasol is a career 23 percent 3-point shooter and hasn’t made more than one 3-pointer in four of his past five seasons. As a side note, isn’t it almost a given that a player with Gasol’s shot will make two 3s just by accident?

Gasol could be the X factor against the Heat, but it’s a big question mark how he’ll be used in D’Antoni’s offense. Let’s just say sticking Gasol 25 feet from the basket would make the Heat very happy.

You might ask, how do the Heat generally do in the pick-and-roll? Incredibly well. Another reason D’Antoni’s offense plays right into the hands of the Heat. Last season, Miami ranked second in the league guarding the pick-and-roll ball handler (Nash in the Lakers' case) and fourth in the league when guarding the roll man (Howard), according to Synergy Sports.

It’s all because of Joel Anthony, one of the league’s best pick-and-roll blitzers. Interestingly enough, Anthony hasn’t been able to crack the Heat’s rotation this season, as the Heat have gone all-in with shooters surrounding the Big Three. Anthony? Not a shooter. Not even from 5 feet.

For the Heat, Anthony would be key against the Lakers in any matchup, regular season or postseason. Few players can blow up a pick-and-roll as effectively as Anthony, and he’ll be needed to thwart Nash’s attack. Putting him out on the floor, however, will make the Heat immensely easier to guard. Howard can’t clean up everyone’s mistakes, but with Anthony’s stone hands, Howard won’t sweat it if he has to leave and rescue his perimeter defenders. It’s a classic give-and-take scenario.

It will be a fascinating clash of styles. The Heat will want to go “small” with Battier and spread the floor, but can they get away with Battier guarding Gasol? Can they get away with Bosh defending the pick-and-rolls instead of Anthony? Wouldn’t the Heat rather send the 6-11 Bosh to guard Gasol in the corner so that Bosh can help intercept potential lobs to the paint?

All legitimate questions for Spoelstra and Pat Riley to ponder before the Heat and Lakers first face off on Jan. 17 in a potential Finals preview. In the end, D’Antoni’s pick-and-roll offense will be a scary affair solely because of Howard and Nash. But the Heat have been able to defend it in the past and the Lakers may be leaving money on the table if they don’t surround Howard and Nash with 3-point shooters.

PodKast: The Mikes, PJ and Bernie

November, 14, 2012
11/14/12
8:51
PM PT
Kamenetzky By Andy Kamenetzky
ESPNLosAngeles.com
Archive
There are occasionally periods when the news cycle doesn't provide us much in the way of juicy topics for the podKast. Safe to say, this isn't one of those periods. Plenty to chop up, with Mike Brown out, Mike D'Antoni in, and Phil Jackson -- along with his legion of fans -- left mystified. It's officially a new era in the Los Angeles Lakers' illustrious franchise history, and we're diving right in.

The show can be heard by clicking on the module, and a breakdown of talking points is below.



Play Download

- (2:30): After sharing some secrets for aspiring journos everywhere, we discuss the firing of Brown. Was it fair? Was it the right decision? Why did things ultimately go wrong for Brown?

- (7:19): The Lakers shocked the world by hiring D'Antoni, despite all the reporting (and fan noise) that strongly pointed in a third tour of duty for The Zen Master. First things first. What does this development do to the Buss Family Thanksgiving dinner just around the corner?

- (10:26): We examine why Jackson may have deemed a lesser fit than D'Antoni. There are legitimate reasons to question this roster's compatibility with the triangle, and more important, how fully invested Phil would remain, given the physical and mental toll the NBA grind seemed to take on him through the 2011 season.

- (14:23): What adjustments could be necessary by D'Antoni to get the most out of Steve Nash, Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol, Dwight Howard, and the supporting cast? How will this team eventually look with everyone healthy and on the same page? (By the way, it occurred to me after recording how the better "Where does Pau fit in?" comparison player was probably Boris Diaw, rather than Shawn Marion.)

- (19:10): Our biggest concern about D'Antoni might be his habit of running very short rotations, which simply cannot happen with a roster so collectively long in the tooth. However, we're not nearly as concerned about the "no defense" reputation that has plagued the coach since his days in Phoenix. While those Suns were hardly the second coming of the Bad Boy Pistons, they were actually better than credited.

- (20:55): The Kamenetzky brothers are gonna miss interim head coach Bernie Bickerstaff sooooooooooo much.

Why Mike D'Antoni was the right choice

November, 12, 2012
11/12/12
6:49
AM PT
Kamenetzky By Andy Kamenetzky
ESPNLosAngeles.com
Archive
Give the Lakers credit. They never run out of ways to keep the world guessing. One day after giving Mike Brown a public vote of confidence, they send the guy packing. And then upon prepping everyone for the “Godfather Part III” installment of Phil Jackson in L.A. (“Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in!”), an audible is called for Mike D’Antoni, the man painted as the distant second choice. There’s a reason this franchise has flourished in Hollywood.

Given how “We want Phil” chants have echoed through Staples Center the past two days, I know this decision will leave many fans disappointed. Each of Jackson’s stints in L.A. have featured multiple championships, and this is a team built to immediately carry that tradition. In theory, what’s not to like?

However, something about hiring Jackson always struck me as overly familiar. Predictable. A bit too convenient. You could hear the wheels turning inside the heads of fans, media and players alike. "Phil is available. ... He lives in the South Bay. ... Eleven titles. ... Zen Master. ... Of course he's the guy."

Except, of course, most complex situations typically don't resolve in ready-made, neat solutions. And I wasn’t entirely convinced another go-round with Phil was quite the slam dunk most people thought.

To begin with, the seamless-return narrative was exaggerated. Only five current Lakers players have played under Jackson, and three had relatively short stints. A few notable highs notwithstanding, Metta World Peace’s time in PJ's system was, to say the least, turbulent. Steve Blake played one year under Jackson and was visibly uncomfortable in the triangle. During Devin Ebanks' lone campaign with Phil, the then-rookie rarely removed his warm-ups. Only Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol have truly flourished in the triangle. As Bryant noted after Friday's win, the 1999-2000 squad won a title in its first triangular season, but it was also loaded with veterans who spent years playing against Jackson's Chicago Bulls, which created some degree of familiarity. This 2012-13 roster wouldn't figure to benefit from that luxury.

There was also the issue of Steve Nash, who remains the same odd fit in the triangle as he was in the Princeton. Either the Hall of Fame point guard would have endured another learning curve in a system that doesn't cater to his style, or Jackson would have been forced to tweak his offense to accommodate a type of player he's never coached. Both approaches could have meant more heads bumping, and at least one reason Brown was fired was to avoid such a scenario.

It's also worth remembering that Jackson's last season with the Lakers didn't end particularly well, beyond just the second-round sweep at the hands of Dallas. As I wrote at the time, 2010-11 wasn't a strong season for Jackson. He had to be cajoled into returning, then throughout the season often seemed disconnected with players, unable to reach and motivate them. The team appeared less prepared than it should have been at key moments, and that lack of poise reared its ugly head during a playoff run that went from wobbly to disastrous. Too often Jackson relied too heavily on his established approach rather than venturing out of his comfort zone to address what clearly wasn’t working with the team. Truth be told, he appeared tired of the NBA grind, like a man who realized he might have made a mistake in returning.

(Read full post)

Heat Read: Defense will make or break Mike Brown

November, 8, 2012
11/08/12
3:06
PM PT
Windhorst By Brian Windhorst
ESPNLosAngeles.com
Archive
Editor's note: Throughout the 2012-13 NBA season we'll be asking our colleagues at The Heat Index to weigh in on the progress of the Lakers' newly minted super group. This week, Brian Windhorst pinpoints the key issue for Lakers head coach Mike Brown. Hint: It's not the Princeton offense.

Here are two conversations with head coaches that put a little perspective on the situation the Los Angeles Lakers find themselves in after a 1-4 start.

Early in the 2006-07 season, the Cleveland Cavs were in the midst of a losing skid in which they were struggling mightily to score. After going through a six-game span where they averaged just 84 points, LeBron James and Larry Hughes, then the team’s highest-paid player and second-most vital voice, were openly complaining about coach Mike Brown’s offensive schemes. It was the first serious internal player challenge to Brown as a head coach.

“The way we need to look at it is if we only score 84 points then we need to work hard enough on defense to only give up 83,” Brown said at the time.

This was Brown’s personality and coaching philosophy in a nutshell: Defense always came first and second. Correcting problems always started with focusing on defense, even when the concept seemed irrational. Blame it on Gregg Popovich and the “pound the rock” mantra in San Antonio; Brown pounded that defensive rock.

Later that season the Cavs reached the NBA Finals when they averaged just 87 points in regulation (there was a rather famous double-overtime game that skewed the stats a tad) in the Eastern Conference finals. The Detroit Pistons averaged 83 points.

Fast-forward to this fall and a conversation with Miami Heat coach Erik Spoelstra during the second day of training camp. The topic was the conference finals series last season with the Boston Celtics when the Heat headed to Boston for Game 6 trailing 3-2 after three consecutive losses.

At the time, Spoelstra struck a confident pose, much as he did in the previous series when the Heat fell down to the Indiana Pacers 2-1 and suffered an injury to Chris Bosh. Spoelstra’s mood was pervasive, the entire Heat team seemed to buy into his lead and never looked worried as it came back to win the series.

“To be honest with you, nothing that we faced in the playoffs last year was as mentally challenging as the year before,” Spoelstra said. “Nothing was like 9-8.”

Put all of that into context with where the Brown-coached Lakers sit now.

At 1-4, their start has been beyond disappointing to those who expected instant greatness with a team stocked with future Hall of Famers. Such expectations -- the Lakers did little to discourage them, Metta World Peace publicly talking about winning 70 games -- after a radical roster overall can be quite taxing. This was a lesson the Heat, themselves a little too quick to assume everything would fall nicely into place, are still obviously harkening back to.

The Heat, as Spoelstra said, still have some scars from the internal and external pressures of starting the 2010-11 season 9-8, culminating in the LeBron James “bump” of Spoelstra during a loss in Dallas. Now the Lakers have a mirror image to examine with Kobe Bryant’s “stare down” of Brown late in Wednesday’s loss in Utah.

Dealing with the pressure to win big fast under heavy national attention while integrating new stars, no matter their experience and skill, is a challenge. It’s not impossible of course. The 2007-08 Celtics started 20-2 in their first season after trading for Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett. The last time a Lakers team experienced such preseason hype was after the arrival of Gary Payton and Karl Malone in 2003 and that squad started 18-3. But as the Heat showed, early success is not to be taken for granted.

There are numerous things dogging the Lakers, and it seems Brown specifically, at the moment. The most frequently cited is the installation of a Princeton-style offense, a decision it should be pointed out that was reached by the organization in full consultation with Bryant before Steve Nash and Dwight Howard were even acquired. There’s also the minutes issue, it’s still early and Nash is hurt but the fact that the aged Lakers have four players in the top 33 in minutes per game thus far is concerning and an indication that Brown is already pressing. Then there’s a constant issue that has been with Brown since his days in Cleveland, which is his ability to command respect when needed.

But the true alarm that has resulted in all the angst around Brown is what’s been happening with the Lakers defensively, that rock that Brown has always relied on. The Lakers are lagging behind badly there and it's removing the safe zone where Brown can usually run. Brown doesn’t seek or get much credit for it, but he has been one the league’s best defensive coaches for the past decade.

For all the talk about Princeton and how it meshes with Bryant, Howard, Nash and Pau Gasol, the Lakers are actually doing OK with the ball. They’re not dominating at that end, and that was indeed the expectation, but they are not struggling. Five games in, they rank fifth in the league in field goal percentage (47 percent) and fifth in the league in offensive efficiency, the number of points they score per 100 possessions (104 currently) and a useful tool for standardizing offensive performance across the league.

There is room for improvement and not having Nash because of his leg injury factors in as well. There have been some calls to abandon the new offense and in all likelihood the Lakers will temper it. Said one league insider: “When they were struggling a bit last year they went to a version of the triangle and it settled things down and I wouldn’t be surprised to see them phase that in again.”

The tale on the defensive end is bleaker and that is where Brown is a fair target. Last season the Lakers had some good defensive numbers, giving up 90 points a game and holding opponents to 41 percent shooting. They slipped a little bit in some of the defensive rankings from Phil Jackson’s final season, but overall they were considered a good defensive team, in keeping with Brown’s reputation.

In the early going this season, however, the Lakers’ defense has been troublesome. They rank 22nd in defensive efficiency, the amount of points they give up per 100 possessions, at 103. They are 19th in defensive field goal percentage at 45 percent. They are 18th in points allowed at 98.8, more than eight more per game than last season.

Among everything that Brown is dealing with, these are the real issues. This is supposed to be Brown’s safety net, the “shrink the floor” help defensive philosophy that he helped make popular in the league. The one he normally drills and drills, obsesses about in preparation and preaches about at length. Right now, it has abandoned the Lakers despite the addition of Howard, the type of athletic basket defender that usually allows all defenders to look better.

If Brown is going to pull the Lakers out of their early-season slump -- and they start a six-game homestand Friday against Golden State that offers opportunity -- it will be here. That is, after all, what got Brown this job, and it will be that defense that will save it or not.

Lakers at Blazers: What to watch

October, 31, 2012
10/31/12
11:08
AM PT
Kamenetzky By Andy Kamenetzky
ESPNLosAngeles.com
Archive
No rest for the winless. Upon wrapping up a disappointing debut against the Dallas Mavericks, the Lakers hopped a plane to the great Northwest for a date with the Portland Trail Blazers. For the past decade or so, the Rose Garden has served as purple-and-gold Kryptonite. Blame it on the energy from a rabid fan base, a typically solid roster or the rain, but whatever the reason, Portland's been a tough place to score a road victory, even during championship seasons. However, the Blazers are in the midst of a post-Brandon Roy/Greg Oden/Nate McMillan facelift, and the results aren't expected by most to be immediately pretty.

Will this developmental stage equal an easier road in the Rose City and the first Lakers' win of the season? For more perspective, I conducted an IM discussion with Andrew Tonry of the True Hoop network's Portland Roundball Society. Below is the transcript:

Andy Kamenetzky: Like the Lakers, the Blazers have undergone a lot of roster changes. What's your general impression of this team?

Andrew Tonry: I hate to say it, but the forecast for the season looks a lot like the Portland weather: cold, dark and grey. The team is rebuilding. (As a Laker follower, you may forget how that works.) While there are pieces to be excited about -- rookie point guard Damian Lillard, for example -- Portland simply lacks talent. Perhaps half of their roster is true NBA-level players, and the top -- LaMarcus Aldridge and Nicolas Batum -- have yet to prove themselves as guys truly capable of leading a playoff-bound squad.

AK: What are Portland's strengths and weaknesses so far?

AT: New Blazers coach Terry Stotts gets a lot of credit for Dallas' offensive schemes over the last few seasons. He's come to Portland with a plan to open things up with more movement and dynamism. The Blazers leaders -- Aldridge and Batum -- are guys who've shown the most promise on the offensive end. Defense, however, will be the sticking point. Nobody on Portland's roster is particularly known for defense, especially around the rim, where the Blazers will start J.J. Hickson, a natural power-forward, at center.

Even more than defensive deficiencies, the Blazers will be hurt by a wafer-thin bench. As I mentioned earlier, most of the guys in the second unit are players who lucked their way onto the roster because bodies were needed.

AK: As a natural forward playing center, how do you anticipate Hickson handling the matchup against Howard?

AT: I anticipate Hickson getting manhandled. I also anticipate rookie Meyers Leonard getting some minutes, and for what it's worth, he's a true 7-footer, one of the few players in the NBA with the size, strength and quickness to match Howard's. But it's too early to expect much. Leonard has a lot to learn, including how to stay out of foul trouble.

The Lakers starters haven't had much time together. How long do you expect it'll be until they become a cohesive unit? And until their potential is reached?

(Read full post)

Lakers vs. Mavericks: What to Watch

October, 30, 2012
10/30/12
10:50
AM PT
Kamenetzky By Andy Kamenetzky
ESPNLosAngeles.com
Archive
With an 0-8 preseason in the books, Kobe Bryant nursing a foot injury and training camp a bust as a platform for building chemistry, it would be difficult to claim the new-look Lakers are kicking off the games that count on a high note. Fortunately, the scheduling gods decided to hook them up. The Dallas Mavericks' radical offseason facelift required players to wear name tags during training camp, so they're negotiating continuity issues of their own. In the meantime, two starters -- Dirk Nowitzki and Chris Kaman -- are out with respective knee and calf injuries. Throw in the uncertain vibes following their exceptionally uninspiring defense, and the Mavs enter Staples Center with plenty of questions swirling about.

For some local knowledge about the Mavericks, I conducted an IM conversation with Tim MacMahon, who covers the squad for ESPN Dallas. Below is the transcript.

Andy Kamenetzky: What's been your impression of the new-look Mavs, injuries and new faces acknowledged?

Tim MacMahon: It's been an absolute mess. Dirk's knee scope isn't even the biggest concern. Nor is Chris Kaman's strained calf. This could be a chemistry experiment that completely blows up in the Mavs' face. They've already suspended Delonte West twice, and there was a heated argument between two other teammates after a preseason loss last week. It's a volatile mix of potluck players in contract years. (Editor's note: The Mavs waived West after this conversation concluded.)

The only real bright spot is it looks like the Mavs got a steal in second-round pick Jae Crowder. But it's far from a good thing that he's probably starting Tuesday night.

AK: Doesn't sound like a fun locker room, but has it been just as bad on the court?

TM: Well, it's been entertaining. It's not like the Mavs have a bunch of bad guys. It's just an awkward situation. On the floor, the Mavs in their current state are short, can't shoot and commit turnovers by the bunches. Other than that, they look great.

By the way, are the loaded Lakers ever gonna win a game?

AK: Tuesday, apparently.

TM: I dunno about that. Eddy Curry is coming for Dwight Howard.

AK: That is a game-changer. All kidding aside, these guys should be fine once they get all the core players on the floor for an extended period to get in sync. They've added a bunch of new players, a new offense, and the preseason has featured six games missed by Dwight Howard, five by Jordan Hill, three by Kobe and one by Pau Gasol. It's hampered Mike Brown's ability to decide on a rotation, and put the team-wide learning curve behind the 8 ball. However, the actual starting five looked unguardable in the one game they played together.

(Read full post)

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TEAM LEADERS

POINTS
Kobe Bryant
PTS AST STL MIN
25.2 4.8 1.4 35.4
OTHER LEADERS
ReboundsJ. Hill 8.6
AssistsK. Bryant 4.8
StealsK. Bryant 1.4
BlocksE. Davis 1.2