Never let it be said Metta World Peace isn't an eternal optimist. Despite exiting the second round of the playoffs for the second consecutive season, MWP doesn't consider the Lakers in need of radical change. Heck, he's still struggling to conceptualize the Oklahoma City Thunder as a team superior than his in the first place.
"The best team in the NBA lost in five," insisted MWP. "The best team in the NBA should be up 3-2, playing tomorrow. But the better team that took advantage of the moment, that took advantage of their time, they seized it and they grabbed it. They held onto it. So we gotta find a way to hold onto our moments."
MWP's time with the media was peppered with the phrase "should be up 3-2," and the overarching theme of his comments could be labeled "confidence." He's confidence in the form discovered after several months laboring and working himself back into shape. (The lockout prevented MWP from consulting the training staff to address a nerve issue in his back, and his conditioning in turn suffered.) The process was slow, and MWP was admittedly unsure he'd ever come close to the two-way dominance of his prime. But come April, slimmed down and healthy, Metta finally broke through and has no doubts this version will be the one gracing the hardwood moving forward.
"I just feel like I want to pick up right where I left off, and kind of prove something," proclaimed the former Defensive Player of the Year. "I never like to prove anything, but this time around, I kind of want to prove a little bit."
Metta also emphatically stressed the importance of this self-confidence trickling down to certain teammates. Particularly when it comes to deferring to Kobe Bryant. As far as MWP's concerned, the Mamba may be one of the greatest ever, but during crunch time those alongside him must start viewing themselves as equally worthy of making plays.
"I think at the end of the game, guys gotta trust themselves more," said MWP. "I think sometimes, not myself, but sometimes guys, they look to Kobe too much. I think they gotta understand Mitch (Kupchak) brought you here. Mitch also assembled teams that won championships, so he knows what he's doing. And he brought you here for a reason. Because you're good. So believe in yourself.
"When I first got here, I know Kobe is an amazing player. I know me and Kobe had a lot of conflict when we were on opposite teams, but I still looked up to Kobe because he played like (Michael) Jordan and Jordan is my favorite player. So when I got here, sometimes I would be in awe of Kobe, watching Kobe to see if he would make the shot. Wanting to see him win the game with the game-winner. And every game I'm like, 'He's gonna win! He's gonna win!' But I'm not making an impact on the game. I'm watching Kobe. Guys moving forward have to believe in themselves. I think if guys believe in themselves, you're gonna see a whole different team.
"You're playing with a great player. Five championships. I don't know how many people can say they got five championships in any sport. So no matter who the player is, you come to this team, you will look at Kobe as one of the greatest players ever. You know? But playing with Kobe for a long time, I understand I gotta chip in. I must chip in. So I think the young guys, not the older guys, a lot of young guys went through it this year. And I think coming back next year, they just have to understand, we gotta chip in.
"Chip in. Don't watch... chip in so Kobe can get his sixth ring, so I can get my second, and Pau (Gasol) can get his third, and things like that."
The issue is the ultimate "chicken or egg" quandary for the Lakers. Do guys stand around because Kobe's in "takeover" mode or does he enter that mode because guys are standing around? Like most things in life, it's a little of both, and varies from game to game. But where MWP is absolutely correct is the importance of not deferring to Kobe simply because he expects the ball. Guess what? You don't have to give it to him.
Derek Fisher, who's closer to Kobe than any player in the NBA, used to talk openly about the concept of protecting your space as his teammate. Kobe's personality is, shall we say, strong, and if you don't give him the rock when he wants it -- which, by the way, is "always" -- you may end up getting an earful. But at the same time, Kobe respects those who stand up to him and those who make aggressive plays. Plus, as MWP noted, "Kobe didn't sign you. The Lakers are paying you." In other words, Kobe may be this team's unquestioned and rightful leader, but he's nobody's "boss." There's a big difference, and to acknowledge that distinction in no way dilutes 24's status. It's just the truth, and remembering this actually empowers the supporting cast to provide Kobe with the most help possible.
Of course, it's not even a given MWP will be on the roster next season to help remind everyone of this importance. The Lakers are in cost-cutting mode, and there's rampant speculation he or Steve Blakecould be strong candidates for such treatment. MWP is a much better player than Blake, but he also makes nearly double the salary and after two consecutive postseason suspensions, is considerably more difficult to rely on. I asked MWP if his future with the organization was discussed in his meeting. It wasn't, but MWP's also not worried. If he and the team are destined to part ways, there won't be any hard feelings.
"The Lakers, they did a lot for me so I like it here," smiled Metta "I like it here. But whatever is best for the Lakers. If it's me not being here, if it's good for the Lakers, it's good for me because the Lakers, they did nothing but great things for me. I got a championship here, something I always wanted. And then being here is great also. I've liked it. I'd definitely would like to be here. I don't really talk about myself. I always talk about what could make the team better. Whatever is in the best interest of the Lakers, that's what's important to me. "
MORE EXIT INTERVIEWS: