1-on-1 with Metta World Peace
While in Hawaii for training camp, Lakers Reporter Mike Trudell sat down with four Lakers players to talk a bit about basketball, and a bit about what those players have been up to off the court.
Highlights of the interviews, which aired on Time Warner Cable SportsNet, will appear over the next few days, continuing with Metta World Peace.
MT: How are you holding up (physically)?
MWP: Good. The first day was tough. I had a very good summer. I worked really hard. So the first day of Coach Scott’s practice, I got banged up. I had to sit out two days just to recover a bit and prepare. I had a minor strained calf. I was able to come back and be OK. I’m in pretty good shape. Personally, I’m pretty good. I’m still pretty good and I can still play basketball pretty good.
MT: How do you balance (your age and experience in the league) and making sure you don’t push your body too far?
MWP: There’s no balance. I’m not gonna control it. It’s a great thing to want to be competitive. And then it’s also a great thing to want to mentor and help the young players, so I don’t really need a balance. When I’m out there on the court practicing for Coach Scott, I’m gonna try to dominate. I’m gonna put everybody who can’t guard me on the block. And I’m gonna not let anybody score. And then when it’s time to teach them how to play, I’ll teach them how to play. I want to see those guys play well.
MT: Kobe says that it’s the mental part of your defense that stands out, not the physical part.
MWP: I’m so grateful to be back with him. We talk often. I’ve seen every offense in the NBA. That’s why I became a pretty good offensive mind. The coaches always try to throw every offense at me. Kobe was always able to be successful against me, but the other All-Stars — these coaches were on the sideline going crazy because there was nothing they could do to keep me off their star players. I’ve seen flares and down screens and back screens and screen-and-rolls and everything. Now I’m older and able to figure it out even easier. I’m not as fast as I was when I was younger, but I can see it coming from a mile away.
MT: Where does Kobe rank among all-time guys you’ve had to guard one-on-one?
MWP: I’ve played streetball. I’ve played in the NBA. When I got in the NBA, I was playing four games a day in the summer outside on concrete. So I’ve played against many great players. Kobe’s top five. (Michael) Jordan was tough when he came back. There were a couple guys that I played against in the streets that were very tough to guard. One of the guys from uptown Kingdome, he was fresh seven years out of jail and came and played basketball. He had 50 on me. … That’s when I played for the Maloofs. It was him, another guy who passed away whose name was “Sticks.” He was really tough to guard. So you mix in Kobe, Jordan, LeBron (James) with these other street guys that nobody’s ever heard of. They were pretty tough for me to guard.
MT: How would you describe those kind of guys who didn’t make it to the NBA because of off-the-court reasons, like jail?
MWP: Some guys that play streetball, you say, “OK, he’s very good, but he doesn’t have a shot.” But there were some guys I’m like, “How are you not on a roster?” It’s got to be perfect timing. I did play against about three guys that come to my mind: a guy named Jude from New York City; Sticks, (who) passed away. He was from New York City and very tough to guard. I wish I knew this other guy’s name. He was really good, but I can’t remember his name. And then Kobe. Jordan was tough, at 38, to guard. And LeBron was always like, “Wow, this kid’s pretty tough.” (Kevin) Durant is tough. He’s had some success against me. But if I had to pick a top five, Durant would be like six.
MT: What is it about Kobe’s offense that makes it difficult for you?
MWP: Kobe’s smart. He has every pivot. So as a defender, when I’m defending a guy I’m only going from what I know. I’m only going to stop a guy and have that confidence from what I know that I’ve been through from guarding other players. But Kobe showed me things I’ve never seen before. I didn’t know a guy could pivot this way, come back this way, fadeaway. I’m like, “What is this? How do you stop this?” And then how do you stop a guy, on top of all that, who’s hungry? And he’s not backing down. I’m used to guys backing down when I play against them. Guys don’t want no part. They just give up and back off. Kobe will keep coming at you. … (They’ll) move the ball, won’t even ask for the ball. Just stay somewhere else. Kobe’s not that guy.
MT: I think that’s why you guys get along.
MWP: Exactly. I wish people could have seen us practice sometimes. We had some nice practices; a lot of great arguments. If you’re from the outside looking in, people would call those arguments disruptive or not appropriate. But me and Kobe loved it. We loved to go at it and just jaw against each other.
MT: How do you look back on being a Laker now that you’re one of the guys who helped win a championship for the franchise?
MWP: I definitely contributed. You’ve got to give credit to (Andrew) Bynum: He had virtually no knee; bone-on-bone, fighting in Games 6 and 7. He could not run. Kobe had 15 rebounds. Pau (Gasol) hits an amazing turnaround shot. At the second when it was about to be a travel, he lets go and it goes in. I don’t have to talk about (Derek) Fisher. He has a movie waiting for him. … Sasha (Vujacic) hits the last two free throws. … Phil (Jackson) had the starting five in the game … and I told Phil, “Let’s put Sasha in” — not because I didn’t want to shoot the free throws, but because he’s a 90 percent free throw shooter. Yeah, he’s cold, but he’s 90 percent. And Phil put him in and Sasha knocks down two free throws.
MT: What do you see in Julius Randle?
MWP: I see a lot in Julius. I want him to be more aggressive and sharper mentally. We talk a lot, and he has the ability to do what I did back in the day, which is change the game with energy, help-side defense, closing out, rebounding, pushing, passing. He can literally win the game by himself. He’s learning. He’s still young. One year in college. I had two years in college. He has to understand that he can win the game by himself. He doesn’t need a lot. All he needs is to do the right thing.
MT: Do you think he can be a real star?
MWP: What’s a star these days? Is it somebody who averages 30 points, or somebody who wins? Like Kawhi Leonard averages 17 points, (plays) in the Finals, wins MVP. That type of encouragement needs to be brought out more from the media (and) organizations, because if you’re going to ask a kid to play team basketball, you’ve got to reward that kid. Because if not, you’re going to get guys shooting 30 times, wanting to average 30, and you’re not going to win. But Julius has the potential to be an all-around superstar, and if so they should treat him just as well as somebody who’s averaging 30, but not playing defense, and getting all the awards and accolades.
MT: It seems like Randle mentally wants to be great. Do you sense that in him, too?
MWP: I just told him it’s not about being great; it’s all about winning. Every game: just win. That’s it. That’s all you’ve got to worry about. You don’t have to worry about being great. You’re different from David Robinson. You’re two different people. You’re not Michael Jordan. You’re not Hakeem Olajuwon. You’re not Steve Nash. This is you. You’re Julius Randle. Just be yourself and that’s gonna pay off. That’s gonna do a lot for the Lakers. That’s gonna do a lot for yourself. And we’re gonna win a lot of games. He can definitely lead us to the playoffs. He may not be the leading scorer on the team. Kobe may be the leading scorer. Who knows?
MT: What do you think about D’Angelo Russell?
MWP: Russell’s a vet. He’s been here before. He’s too relaxed. I would feel confident with him in a playoff game right now. Game 5: Put him in. He’s gonna control it. He needs four other smart players around him, because he’s not a selfish player. If you put four guys that aren’t intelligent around him, it’s really hard for him to look good. … His mind is just advanced. It’s no disrespect to a young guy. My little son is advanced, and my big son isn’t as advanced as my little son. It’s just different. People are different. It’s no disrespect to anybody. Russell is advanced.
MT: How would you describe what you’ve seen from Jordan Clarkson’s quick rise?
MWP: I think he needs to use his energy more. The whole thing is to score and get paid. You score, you get paid. And that’s just being blunt. I told Clarkson, “Use your energy.” In our easy run, which is tough — that run should be called the Byron Scott run — he lapped us. He lapped me twice, maybe three times. He was running fast while everyone was tired. Everyone was mentally breaking down, and Jordan … was running and lapping us. That’s hard to do. I told him, “You’ve got to use your energy and wear people out.” That’s what I used to do. A guy would (score) 15 in the first quarter and end up with 20 because I continue to use my energy: offense, slide, pick up fullcourt, box out, slide, keep driving — then the guy would get tired. They’d break down. I want him to get to that point.
MT: So you can use that physical energy in the mental portion of the game.
MWP: Absolutely. You can definitely use your energy to win games, but you’ve got to continue to use it at all times.
MT: What’s the latest with you outside of basketball?
MWP: Everything is great. I’m not as entertaining as I used to be I guess, but I still love the game. I still have a great time. … Seventeen years of playing professional basketball, it’s great. So many things going on. I’m not going to sit here and promote, but it is going good.
MT: Are you happy with the progression you’ve made since being suspended for that season?
MWP: Absolutely. I do think it’s a circle in the sense — not that I’ve changed. I’ve never wanted to change. I don’t think anybody should change. But I do think you should become yourself. So people got a chance to see me at my worst mentally, and they’ve got a chance to see me at my best mentally. And that’s great. I think it’s good that people actually got the chance to see me. I enjoy it. I enjoy the people who saw me go through the brawl, make mistakes and then see me at a good time. I enjoy every bit of it, and I’m happy people have gotten the chance to get to know me.
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