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Mitch Kupchak always worries about Metta World Peace

The mere mentioning of Metta World Peace solicited amused smiles and boisterous laughs among Lakers Coach Mike Brown and General Manager Mitch Kupchak.

Brown continuously joked about how he's going to adjust to addressing the Lakers' player formerly known as Ron Artest. "I might just call him Metta or Met," Brown said Friday at the team's practice facility in El Segundo. "I don't want to call him Peace because he may think that's grounds for him to be able to leave practice." But underneath the smirks and the jokes stood the reality that the Lakers remain wary of World Peace.

Kupchak continued delivering punch lines when I asked if he's particularly concerned with World Peace's focus entering the 2011-12 season. "We've had concerns the moment we signed him," Kupchak said when Artest agreed to a five-year deal, worth $33 million, in the 2009 off-season. "That's not changed. I don't think it's greater or any less. I think it's the same."

But what isn't the same is whether the Lakers simply tolerate World Peace's goofy antics or view it as the triggering point in waiving him via the so-called amnesty clause. The Times' Mike Bresnahan reported that's a strong possibility, particularly after this season. And particularly with the Lakers' desire to upgrade their roster without significantly going over the luxury tax, cutting ties with World Peace may become an unavoidable reality.

Granted, labeling Ron Artest's poor 2011-12 season as evidence he's distracted not only seems lazy, it makes him a scapegoat because the Lakers suffered far more serious problems last season than World Peace missing break-away dunks, hoisting ill-advised three-pointers or posting a career-low 8.9 points per game. Worrying about his focus level also misses the point because it's never directly correlated to how World Peace plays basketball.

Kupchak gets that part in the Lakers' need to tolerate World Peace's behavior at some level because the payoff can be high, such as strong defensive performances, a surprise tip-in in the Western Conference Finals or a key three-pointer in Game 7 of the NBA Finals. But World Peace needs to understand he doesn't have the same platform to entertain as he once did following his significant role in Game 7 of the 2010 NBA Finals. Right now, his name change may solicit laughs from Brown and Kupchak. But it will no longer appear amusing should World Peace's poor play persist.

RELATED:

Metta World Peace needs to understand flimsy job security

Concerns about Ron Artest's distractions miss the point

Ron Artest striving to maintain balance with devotion to basketball and rap music

--Mark Medina

E-mail the Lakers blog at mgmedin@gmail.com

 
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