- Dave McMenamin, ESPN.com
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EL SEGUNDO, Calif. -- Metta World Peace was the first Los Angeles Lakers player to address the media following his exit interview on Tuesday and could not let go of what could have been as he sifted through the rubble of a second consecutive season that ended with a second-round playoff exit.
"(We) definitely underachieved," World Peace said. "We were the best team in the NBA and lost in five (games). The best team in the NBA should be up 3-2 and playing tomorrow, but the (Oklahoma City Thunder was the) better team that took advantage of the moment, that took advantage of their time, they seized, they grabbed it and they held on to it."
The Lakers lost to the Thunder 106-90 in Game 5 of the Western Conference semifinals on Monday, losing the series 4-1.
Despite the seemingly lopsided series result, the Lakers squandered late leads in Games 2 and 4 and World Peace believes that his team isn't far off its championship standard.
"I like this team," World Peace said. "You look at the team, you all saw some of the amazing things we did. OKC, we had those guys beat fairly easy. Fairly easy we had those guys beat, but that's the difference between a team that's been together that added Derek Fisher, and that team has been together so they knew exactly how they're playing together in the fourth quarter, versus a team that hasn't been together."
Added World Peace: "We had them beat. Stunned. So stunned. It's stunning."
Dwelling on the past won't do World Peace and the Lakers any good, however and the mercurial forward knows there are a bevy of questions surrounding the next steps the franchise will make.
One of the questions near the forefront is what the future holds for World Peace who averaged a career-low 7.7 points per game in his 13th season and turns 33 years old in November.
"The Lakers, they did a lot for me so I like it here," World Peace said. "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."
World Peace has two years and approximately $15 million remaining on his contract with the Lakers (with the second year being a player option) and for much of the season it appeared he would be a natural target for the Lakers to exercise their one-time amnesty provision on, which allows NBA teams to take a bad contract off their salary cap.
After coming into training camp admittedly out of shape following the lockout, World Peace improved as the season wore on. He averaged 14.1 points on 47.3 percent shooting in 13 games in April and continued the increased production by averaging 11.7 points in the playoffs once returning from a seven-game suspension for his hit on Oklahoma City's James Harden.
"I was able to play dominant again," World Peace said, crediting the Lakers training staff for helping him recover from a nerve issue in his lower back that hurt him last season. "I'm able to compete against the stars again. That's a great feeling for me. I didn't think I'd get back to that level, honestly."
World Peace would not reveal whether Lakers coach Mike Brown and Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak made it clear whether they felt the franchise wanted him back next season.
"That's something that you will have to ask them," World Peace said.
The noted defensive stopper said that one of the issues stopping the Lakers from getting back to the title this season was an over-reliance on Kobe Bryant.
"I think in the end of the game, guys have to trust themselves more," World Peace said. "I think sometimes, not myself, but sometimes guys look to Kobe too much. I think guys have to understand that Mitch 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."
World Peace said he struggled with being in awe of Bryant when he first joined the Lakers in the summer of 2009 because Bryant played like Michael Jordan and Jordan was his favorite player, but he has learned to be an instigator rather than a spectator alongside Bryant.
"A lot of young guys went through it this year and I think coming back next year guys will understand just chip in. Don't watch," World Peace said. "It's not about watching anymore. We're not watching no more. 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."
World Peace also addressed the coaching change from Phil Jackson to Brown, admitting, "It was a bit of getting used to," but he made sure not to blame Brown for the Lakers' fate against the Thunder.
"Mike wasn't out there guarding Kevin (Durant)," World Peace said. "That was me. Kevin scored on me. Mike didn't throw turnovers at the end of the game. Mike didn't miss a 3-point shot, I missed a 3-point shot. Mike didn't come in out of shape."
World Peace then caught himself.
"He did come in out of shape," World Peace said with a smile. "Actually, he is a fat-ass."
Dave McMenamin covers the Lakers for ESPNLosAngeles.com.