The variables kept swirling in Byron Scott’s head.
How much should he value youth and upside? How much should he prefer experience and Lakers’ familiarity? How much should Scott weigh his satisfaction with Jabari Brown’s scoring over his defensive deficiencies? How much should Scott appreciate Metta World Peace’s mentorship presence over any concerns about his declining play?
Back and forth Scott went until Monday morning. Then, the Lakers chose World Peace over Brown in their last round of roster cuts to ensure a 15-maximum player roster for the 2015-16 regular season.
“It was a very very very extremely difficult decision,” Scott said after practice at the Lakers’ facility in El Segundo. “But really it was about trying to balance the youth and experience on this team and obviously Metta has that experience.”
The 35-year-old World Peace has logged a 15-year NBA career that included a Defensive Player of the Year award (2004), an NBA championship (2010). The 22-year-old Brown has been cut from the Lakers for two consecutive years, though he responded last season by leading the Development League in scoring before landing two 10-day contracts toward the end of the Lakers’ 2014-15 season.
But World Peace has not played in the NBA since the Knicks waived him in 2013. He has spent the past year in overseas gigs in Italy and China. He averaged 3.6 points on 27.7 percent shooting and two rebounds in 12 minutes through seven exhibition games, a far cry from his NBA career averages of 13.8 points on 41.7 percent shooting and 4.7 rebounds in 33 minutes per contest. And although he currently remains healthy, World Peace sat out for three practices and one exhibition because of a strained left calf.
“It’s harder than what people think,” World Peace said. “It wasn’t easy being a vet and trying to get back into the league. It’s not easy when you’re working hard all over again. I don’t want people to think he didn’t work and somehow I got lucky. It was a lot of hard work.”
That entailed endless dieting and training. But World Peace has maintained a stoic reaction during training camp, something that starkly contrasts to his energetic personality.
“My goals didn’t change from the first day I signed my non guaranteed contract,” said World Peace, whose $1.5 million deal will not become guaranteed unless he stays on the roster past Jan. 10, 2016. “I wanted to come here and try to win a championship. My goals didn’t change. So there’s nothing to feel.”
Scott had more emotions, noting that “talking to Jabari was probably the hardest.”
“We still feel this kid will be in this NBA for a long time,” Scott said. “He has a couple of things he needs to work on. It’s probably the most difficult cut I ever had to make.”
Brown averaged 6.0 points, 1.5 rebounds, and 0.8 assists in 14.3 minutes per game through six preseason appearances. But Scott has said he wanted more from Brown on defense. It also did not help Brown would fight for minutes in a crowded backcourt featuring Kobe Bryant, D’Angelo Russell, Jordan Clarkson, Marcelo Huertas and Lou Williams.
Still, Scott has raved about Brown’s improvement with his aggressiveness ever they waived him at last year’s training camp. Brown posted league-leading 24.4 points per game with the Lakers’ Development League affiliate, the D-Fenders. The Lakers then signed Brown to two 10-day contracts and averaged 11.9 points, 2.1 assists, and 1.9 rebounds in 29.9 minutes per contest. If no NBA team signs Brown before he clears waivers, he will look to play overseas instead of playing in the D-League, according to a league source familiar with his thinking.
“He’s a great kid. He works his tail off,” Scott said of Brown. “You can see he has some growth. But for us, to really try to balance all of these young guys that we have and add some veteran leadership made it that much more difficult. The fact that we know Metta extremely well made it that much harder to let go of Jabari. This is the decision we’ll live by obviously.”
But it’s a decision Scott believes will pay off after seeing World Peace mentor second-year forward Julius Randle. Scott also suggested World Peace’s locker room presence could provide a counterweight to Kobe Bryant’s demanding personality.
“We know how Kobe is when he leads guys. He’s really tough on guys at times,” Scott said. “Metta is a type of guy that can keep everybody together as well. That did come into play as well.”
It also came into play that World Peace assured the Lakers privately that he means what he says publicly.
World Peace has promised he will not complain about a likely limited role at small forward and power forward.
“For me, it’s not about the role,” he said. “It’s about preparing myself mentally. I’m pretty good at that. Physically, I can still play and I can still bang. I can still post up pretty well and still spot up. It’s about if I prepared myself mentally or physically, and I did.”
World Peace has shown different glimpses of his mentorship role. Randle has praised World Peace for working out with him last summer and peppering him with tips about offensive and defensive positioning. World Peace was often seen encouraging Brown from the sideline despite his presence possibly threatening his position on the Lakers. Hence, World Peace said, “Jabari and I had a pretty good relationship.”
“It would be fun. Who wouldn’t want to be a coach?” said World Peace, who also has an informal coaching role with the Palisades high school girls basketball team. “It’s a great life. I’m learning a ton from Coach Scott and Coach Jim [Eyen]. I’m learning so much and I’m grateful to be able to compete with young athletes and learn from great minds.”
After much deliberation, Scott gave World Peace that chance.