by Ryan Wallerson / @RCWallerson
It was a different kind of afternoon, one that spanned two boroughs and the full spectrum of economic class. Whether it was kicking it in the stretch Escalade in Manhattan, or struggling for heat in the barbershop or empty shop across the street in Queensbridge, there was never a dull moment catching up with Metta World Peace.
While in New York during the Lakers’ daunting Grammy trip, World Peace took a ride back home, got a quick shape up, and talked everything basketball with SLAMonline.
MWP dropped his two cents on who’s looking good for the NBA season awards and gave his take on the best team in basketball right now (his answer will probably surprise you). He talked Lakers—a lot of Lakers—and as you’d expect, offered great insight into the mind of the Artest formerly known as Ron.
SLAM: We’ve spent the first half of the year watching the Lakers on SportsCenter for all the wrong reasons. Talk to me about the Lakers’ season so far.
Metta World Peace: We are definitely coming out of it. The most important thing is that we have time. When we were down in Game 7 of the Finals, we had 12 minutes to outscore Boston by 13. That’s no time. And we still won a Championship. We still have over two months to straighten out. That’s beautiful. I’ll take that any day.
SLAM: You seem to have a lot of confidence for a member of a team that has the 10th best record in the Western Conference.
MWP: That isn’t anything too difficult. Fact is, even if we only work our way into the eighth seed, once we get into the Playoffs, say what you want, but we’ll have a game to play. And we have Dwight Howard, Metta, Kobe, Pau Gasol, Steve Nash, and L.A. will be hosting Playoff games? They won’t want it with us.
SLAM: In the preseason, that roster of players sounded like it was going to be quite formidable. Even as you recite it now, it sounds like Los Angeles should be a Playoff-bound squad. Let’s talk about your teammates a little.
On Pau Gasol struggling with his benching: Pau wants to win. Through all of the controversy going on with him, all he is saying is that he wants to win, I can tell you that. If we were winning, you wouldn’t hear a word. However, we are losing, and he’s sitting on the bench unable to do anything about it; that’s hard. As a Hall of Famer, an All-Star, a two-time NBA Champion, to have your team’s fate completely out of your control is frustrating. Pau wants to win, that’s all I can say about him.
On Dwight Howard’s mindset and commitment to the team: I mean, that’s not for me to worry about. All it’s about it winning. Our offense and defense are predicated around him, we know that. But at the end of the day, we just have to go out there and get it done. There are no excuses. You win or you lose, that’s it. Just get it done. There is no grey area, not if or awws. As of now, we are all on the same team. If I lose, Dwight loses; we all lose. No one here likes to lose. At the end of the day we just have to do what it takes to win. What’s happening with one person personally, that’s not my issue or problem. If somebody isn’t having a good day, the rest of us players and coaches have to pick it up. Excuses lead to failure.
On Kobe: Not much to say about Mamba. If we were all playing like him, San Antonio would be looking up at us.
On Nash: Like I said, we have plenty of time. There have been flashes of magic, and there is more to come from him, I believe.
SLAM: How has the adjustment to Mike D’Antoni’s system been for you guys?
MWP: It was tough at first because it was so fast. The pace was so quick. We were used to a style more akin with Playoff basketball—a slower, half court style of ball. Mike D’Antoni is like, “No, go, 150 points.” Your mind has to be tuned to score 150, because that’s what coach wants. Before it was about breaking 100, but playing for Mike D’Antoni, 150 is the mindset. It absolutely required an adjustment.
SLAM: You being a defensive player in your career, how do you find defense under D’Antoni?
MWP: His main thing is effort. He has a system in place, he has coverages. He also knows that defense starts with effort. Even though he doesn’t talk about defense too much, he understands that it needs to be played hard, he demands us to play hard, defensively. You know some coaches are all defensive-minded, and don’t focus on offense, and so you have teams that play great defense but can’t play any offense. There are coaches that are great on both sides. I think Mike D’Antoni is definitely a great offensive mind, and he’s definitely decent on defense.
SLAM: As the Lakers are currently constructed, players, head coach and all, are you guys capable of winning a Championship this year?
MWP: Yes, definitely. I judge whether teams are Finals-worthy by stacking them up the ’94 Knicks, that team that came out of the East but lost in the Finals to Houston. They were real good. And on paper we are definitely better than that team. They had Patrick Ewing, and Latrell Sprewell; they had Charlie Ward and John Starks. They were good. They went to and should have won the chip.
SLAM: And you’re better than that Knicks team?
MWP: Yeah man. I already ran off our team; Kobe, Dwight, Steve Nash, Pau, myself. And Antawn Jamison plays a huge factor too. That’s the difference. That Knicks team didn’t have a sixth man like we do. The sixth man is essential to Championship teams, and ours is on the verge of 20,000 points. He’s 300 away from 20,000. Nobody realizes that. The positive stuff doesn’t make the news. That’s great.
SLAM: How good is Antawn Jamison?
MWP: He’s a silent killer. He’s been averaging 20 points a game practically his whole career. He wasn’t even getting the ball earlier, which is crazy. D had him shooting threes the whole time. Now, he’s playing great. That Knicks team didn’t have anyone like Jamison.
SLAM: Say you make it to the Playoffs, is there anyone who you match-up well against or don’t match up well against?
MWP: We would make a real interesting eighth seed. If we play like a team, we can beat anybody. The Thunder, the Clippers, the Spurs, we can beat anybody. We proved it already. If we play together, then we’ll win. We’ll be up 30 at halftime. It’ll be boring for us. We can be that good. I know we can. But we haven’t been playing together, that much is clear to even the casual fan. That’s why I can have this hope. The fact that it’s the All-Star break, that we have this time, if we can bring it in as a team every night, we will win.
SLAM: What do you have to do to be that good on a more consistent level?
MWP: We play as a team. I’m confident in us when we are losing by 30 because we didn’t play team ball. I could see panicking if we played together, did our best and it just wasn’t good enough. That would cause me to lose sleep. But if we play together we’ll win every day. We haven’t consistently played together as a truly cohesive unit this season, and our record is a reflection of that. If we start playing like I know we can, our record will reflect that as well.
SLAM: How has it been sharing L.A. and the Staples Center with Lob City?
MWP: They beat us when we weren’t playing together and they know it. Kobe gets the ball, they double-team him. Kobe takes the shot, sometimes it’s not the best shot. Everybody is out of rhythm, they win, they’re happy, their new fans cheer, whatever. If we play together, we’ll have them locked up. We’ll lock them and any other team. It’s that simple.
SLAM: So the next time you guys play?
MWP: We play together, we win. You heard it first here.
SLAM: Let’s get off the Lakers and discuss the League. Who is your MVP?
MWP: At the beginning of the season, I thought it would be Dwight. I believe that the MVP should be the main cog on the team with the best record. Sometimes the politics of the NBA gives the award to the inappropriate person. I thought that we were going to be vying for that top spot, and Dwight Howard’s offensive and defensive abilities could, in the right situation, garner that honor.
As for currently, I like Chris Paul for the MVP. There is only one word to use when describing CP3: Wow. I’ll just start with that. Blake Griffin is the best player on that team, but Chris Paul is the reason that the Clippers are where they are. As a basketball player, he’s just so talented. He gives him teammates a confidence they have never had before. I see it. He’s got everybody playing well. It’s hard to do, bring the best out in everybody, and be that talented to still play well yourself. Nobody but Chris Paul can do that. It doesn’t surprise me that they’ve been struggling without them.
LeBron James will win the MVP. He’s just that good. He’s always been good. But it’s on a whole different level this year. It’s his award to lose, that’s for sure.
SLAM: Anybody you want to give an honorary MVP shout out to?
MWP: Russell Westbrook. If his mindset can evolve, and he can play the game that Chris Paul plays, Russell Westbrook is destined for the MVP. Westbrook is such an offensive force, he just needs that Chris Paul “make my teammates better” mind frame. Right now, Oklahoma City is winning because of their sheer talent, heart and great coach. They also have excellent role players who don’t care about outshining Durant or Westbrook, they just do their jobs. But they don’t win like the Clippers. Chris Paul leads the Clippers. It depends, we’ll see if he takes that step.
SLAM: Do you have an opinion regarding Coach of the Year?
MWP: Mike Woodson, Tom Thibodeau and Vinny Del Negro all have my respect. It’s hard to coach teams with a lot of talent. It’s not easy. Look at us. I wish it was Mike Brown. I wish things had gone that well. But as things stand, I’m going say Mark Jackson. I recognize and respect the job he’s doing with a young, relatively unknown team out there with Golden State. Curry is an emerging superstar, but Jackson doesn’t have a heavily established star like most other coaches in that conversation.
SLAM: Give me your best team in basketball.
MWP: I don’t know how many people will agree with me, but I’m going to say the Memphis Grizzles. That team is amazing. I don’t know what’s in the water in Memphis, but that is a team. They do what we (the Lakers) need to: They play together. They are the best team in basketball. It’s the coach, the organization, the water, I don’t know. I want to know their secret. They are tough to beat. They can be beat, and probably will be. But from a collective stand point, from players, coaches, front office, fans; that overall organization top to bottom is the best in basketball.
SLAM: Let’s finish off with you. What does the future hold for Metta World Peace in terms of basketball?
MWP: I want to be a Los Angeles Laker for life. I want the purple and gold forever. I won a Championship there. We haven’t been in the best situation the last couple seasons, but I want to be part of the solution. I want to help them fight out of this foxhole, and get back to what we do, take back what is ours. I want to stay right here. I take this losing personally.
SLAM: Cool. Any All-Star game plans?
MWP: I was going to do Africa or Japan, but we never bought our tickets. So I’ll probably just chill in L.A. Take a break from basketball and tend to my kids and their musical aspirations.