Jackson says Parker needs to ‘keep a level attitude’

Times Staff Writer

Smush Parker sat a few feet from a large TV set, studying video from a recent Seattle SuperSonics game, a quiet picture amid the commotion caused by his sarcastic criticism of Coach Phil Jackson.

The Lakers were 90 minutes from playing the SuperSonics, and, outside the locker room, Jackson was talking about Parker’s seething remarks a day earlier, an event that led to local talk-radio chatter that questioned whether a journeyman guard should really be challenging a Hall of Fame coach.

Jackson seemed almost amused by all the activity, but his words carried weight.

“I like to have a person, especially a guard, out there that’s a lead guard and [who will] know what’s going on and be mentally stable,” Jackson said Friday. “Sometimes I can’t tell whether Smush is totally there in the moment all the time or just so removed that he’s gone.”


Parker, who will be an unrestricted free agent July 1, didn’t endear himself to the franchise when he said he “gave up trying to read that man a long time ago,” referring to Jackson, after being benched for the fourth quarter of the Lakers’ loss Wednesday to the Clippers.

Jackson met with Parker recently and told him that even if he wasn’t in the Lakers’ plans after the season, other teams probably would call the Lakers and ask about Parker’s attitude and demeanor. In other words, Jackson suggested Parker play competitively the rest of the season.

But Parker stewed at the end of the bench after Jackson pulled him in the fourth quarter of a loss to Phoenix last month, and then came Wednesday’s fourth-quarter benching, followed by Parker’s publicly stated unhappiness.

“One of the biggest things that we’ve tried to help Smush overcome is when he comes out of the game to keep a level attitude,” Jackson said. “He pouts a little bit when he comes out. Players don’t want to come out of the game -- they want to play the game -- but the outward expression sometimes is sour. That irritates the fans, and I know some of the people on our team would like to see him have a better attitude toward that.

“I think a lot of the players have extended themselves to Smush this year and really tried to get him going. I’m not saying [he is] aloof, but he has that kind of attitude.... He’s an isolationist in a lot of ways. He stands apart from the team, and I think that removes him from the communication level he should have with his teammates.”

Parker was a surprise story last season, rising from an inconsistent basketball past -- part-time stints with three teams in his first two NBA seasons -- before finally finding a place to stay for an entire season. But his game began to unravel in the 2006 playoffs and he was later irritated because the Lakers did not extend his contract beyond this season. He makes $798,112, well below the league average of about $5 million.

“We have to have him play at a little higher level,” Jackson said. “If he doesn’t, then we have to find somebody else that’s going to go out there and do the job.”

Parker had three points in 24 minutes Friday against Seattle.