Without much attention and fanfare, Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni stripped away the starting position of his most eccentric player.
After providing the team’s most consistent energy outside of Kobe Bryant, Metta World Peace came off the bench in the Lakers’ 101-100 victory Tuesday over the Charlotte Bobcats. After giving the Lakers a dependable option at small forward, World Peace will now play at power forward. And unlike past seasons where he considered a demotion a slight, World Peace made little of D’Antont’s lineup change.
“There’s nothing to explain,” World Peace said. “He’s the head coach, man. We’re trying to win. When we were kids, maybe you get things told to you in a little nice tone and things like that. But we’re grown men. There’s no need to explain. Just come off the bench sucka. Just come off the bench and go play.”
The comment drew laughs from reporters and teammates alike. Lakers guard Chris Duhon constantly snickered over moments afterwards. In a private moment several minutes later, however, World Peace acknowledged “feeling pissed” when the former Ron Artest had to accept a bench role in the 2008-09 season with the Houston Rockets under Rick Adelman.
Although he initially embraced the move, World Peace eventually grew frustrated with his bench role last season under Mike Brown because his rotation varied.
World Peace hardly cared this time around. He still posted 17 points on six of 18 shooting, seven rebounds and four steals in 36 minutes.
“I don’t care how many minutes I play,” World Peace said. “I just care about winning. That’s it. If we win the game and I don’t play, or I play five minutes, 10 minutes, or I split it, that’s what matters.”
In order to win the game, D’Antoni believed World Peace’s bench role proved necessary for different reasons.
First, Pau Gasol returned to the starting lineup at power forward since missing the past eight games because of knee tendinitis. Second, D’Antoni is trying to find ways so that Dwight Howard and Gasol play separately to maximize each other’s spacing. Third, D’Antoni started Devin Ebanks at small forward so World Peace could still log time at power forward without assuming heavier minutes. Fourth, with Jordan Hill and Antawn Jamison suddenly not playing at all, D’Antoni concedes he’s still experimenting with his rotation.
“With Metta going forward, once he gets comfortable with the 4 role, he could be very productive,” D’Antoni said. “Our team could be very productive.”
World Peace acknowledged he initially went through some adjustments, particularly with going only two of 10 from three-point range.
“It was kind of a weird position. I’m definitely not used to playing the four,” World Peace said. “When I was younger, I played the 4. It’s definitely different. I have to get used to it. I want to make sure I keep my teammates involved and continue to be a part and contribute. Tonight I saw a lot of opportunities to drive and kick. I held the ball a little too much today. I was a little disappointed about that.”
Still, the Lakers seemed pleased with varying parts of World Peace’s game.
Even with his inconsistent shooting stroke, World Peace remained aggressive in driving into the lane. He routinely provided energy on hustle plays. World Peace’s peak conditioning this offseason still gave him the strength to match up with bigger players. By playing at the power forward spot, World Peace took advantage of front-line players dribbling the ball too high.
“I’ve been watching him play for a long time and I still don’t understand how he steals the ball from behind like that,” Lakers guard Kobe Bryant said. “If he gets a finger tip on it, the ball sticks to his hands. It’s phenomenal.”
It appears it’s a role World Peace will embrace.
“I have to run with it,” World Peace said, “and do what it takes to win as a team.”
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