The rule of exciting young teams in the NBA is that they need one elder statesmen on the team to be a sounding board and source of history and context when the kids come asking for advice. The Sixers ignored this maxim, give or take one Elton Brand, and suffered as a result, while the Timberwolves enjoyed the services of Tayshaun Prince and Kevin Garnett. This year, everyone’s favorite band of upstarts is the Los Angeles Lakers, and they have Luol Deng as their rotation vet.
But their resident old guy is Metta World Peace.
Though he’s only appeared in seven game for an average of six minutes, Metta is a font of knowledge of the game — along with Vince Carter, Dirk Nowitzki, and Paul Pierce, one of the very last men to have shared the NBA floor with Michael Jordan.
Candid to a fault, World Peace is the perfect person to ask historical questions, such as: Could Tracy McGrady have been as good as Jordan or Kobe if he had stayed healthy?
Complex asked him this very question, and World Peace, perhaps surprisingly, didn’t dismiss it.
Yeah, I think with Tracy he got hurt. He didn’t lift a lot of weights. The only difference I think with Kobe was Kobe lifted more than Tracy. So I think Kobe lifting more helped his career as far as staying strong. Kobe did 20 years. So I think that was a major difference. But as far as talent—Tracy had it all. He was a big-time player. He probably would’ve averaged the same amount of points nowadays as he did back then. He was good. Very, very talented. Definitely was on the level of Kobe and Jordan at one point in time.
Those are bold words indeed, but no one can argue T-Mac was special. The Houston Rockets with him and Yao Ming were full of potential, although the two never could seem to share the court for very long, and they were doomed to a series of first-round playoff exits. It’s enough to make anyone wonder what might have been.
As for those young Lakers, it’s striking just how much they’ve improved from last season, without the newer additions (Deng, Timofey Mozgov and Brandon Ingram) being the primary drivers of their success. It’s led plenty to wonder whether they’ve improved simply by not having to give minutes and shots to Kobe Bryant at the end of his career, but Metta thinks otherwise.
I think this year’s team is a year older; all of the core guys from last year were very young. I actually think that’s the biggest difference. And they’re developing really, really good chemistry. So, you know, that’s the main thing. People can say this team is better without Kobe or whatever—I don’t think that’s the case. I just think it’s a more mature team.
Kobe stans are Kobe stans, and MWP is as big a Kobe stan as there is in the world, so we won’t begrudge him his opinion. But shedding the least efficient player in the NBA in the tail-end of his career can only do good things for a team, and we’re witnessing it in LA.