- Arash Markazi, ESPN Staff Writer
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LOS ANGELES – The popular theory when Dwight Howard arrived in Los Angeles this summer was that Kobe Bryant would groom Howard to eventually become the leader of the Los Angeles Lakers. During a season as unpredictable as this one has been for the Lakers, it only makes sense now that another veteran, Metta World Peace, is trying to help groom Howard to be that leader.
“Dwight is learning how to be a leader,” World Peace told ESPNLA 710 on Thursday. “He’s not yet a vocal leader because he hasn’t been in that situation enough to lead by example, so I have to really step up and lead more vocally and by example and I try to teach Dwight a little bit about what it takes to lead. I don’t have all the accolades that these guys have, mainly because of my dysfunction and my Tourette's [syndrome]. It’s not because of my play, because I’ve been suspended.
“Some guys look at my stats and they don’t see extra defensive player of the years and extra All-Stars because I’ve been in trouble my whole career. So sometimes I lead by example and make big shots and gain these guys’ respect. Everybody leads in different ways. We have a lot of different leaders.”
World Peace said that Kobe “leads by example” and Steve Nash “is out there thinking the game” while he tries to serve as a “support system for everybody.”
During Howard’s tumultuous first season in Los Angeles, World Peace has consistently been by his side, publicly supporting him while he was critiqued and criticized for his play on the court and his comments off the court. World Peace said he learned how to be a leader in the locker room from former Lakers guard Derek Fisher.
“You never know what somebody is going through in their life,” World Peace said. “You never know what somebody is going through physically or mentally. You never know if somebody is not ready for this pressure. You never know what anybody is going through. You can only be there for support. You just got to be there by their side, and I learned that from playing with Derek Fisher. You have to be there for your teammate because all you have is each other. You’re not going to win with just one person.”
While Bryant has been leading by example and has the Lakers on the cusp of making the playoffs, World Peace wishes some of his teammates would snap out of that follower mentality on the court and stop simply watching Bryant try to bail the Lakers out late in games.
“Kobe is playing at a high level right now,” World Peace said. “I think guys have to stop watching him at times and just play at the highest level they can play at. We can’t do all the great things Kobe can do, but you can be as great as you can be. So that means Earl [Clark] has to go coast-to-coast sometimes and Steve Nash has to do his thing. Obviously it’s not going to be Kobe Bryant-ish, but be as great as you can be, and as long as we stop watching Kobe and start doing what’s best for the team I think that’s going to turn into great team play.”
The Lakers seemed to do that in the fourth quarter against the New Orleans Hornets on Wednesday, as they came back from a 25-point deficit to win the game and get to within a game and half of the Utah Jazz for the eighth and final playoff seed in the West. World Peace, however, refused to put much stock in that game. Regardless of the result, he still thinks the Lakers are making the playoffs and winning a championship this season.
“Even if we would have lost that game, I’m still playing for championships, I couldn’t care less,” World Peace said. “If we win or lose that game we’re still coming out No. 1 at the end of the season. That game means nothing to me.”
5hMarc Stein and Ramona Shelburne