I Miss You When You're Around
The Smush Parker Experience continues to be in full effect! Hat tip to anonymous commenter on FB&G who somehow got this news long before being broken by the Miami Herald this morning. At the time of the comment a google search of "Smush" and "Miami" returned only a handful of links consisting mainly of Lakers message boards snickering at the fact that Smush's name was included with Francis, Pargo, and Knight as PGs that the Heat were interested in. But it now appears to be legit.
Way back when in my very first post for this site I said, "Smush's two-year career in Purple and Gold might merit its own post sometime this summer when we're running low on topics." Now that Smush has found a new home, this would seem to be as good a time as any for that promised discussion. So before looking at the implications of this signing for Wade and co., allow me a moment to reminisce fondly at the frustratingly rewarding headache that was Smush Parker, starting Laker point guard.
My first thought when I heard the Lakers had signed undrafted 24-year-old journeyman Smush Parker was not, as one might expect, "Smush who?" so much as,"Holy shit! There's a dude named Smush!?" (it wouldn't be until months later that I learned this was actually a nickname). I still remember excitedly checking his box scores from a different hemisphere to see him score 20 in 3 of his first 4 appearances as a Laker. I was completely convinced that we had uncovered a hidden gem on the scale of Manu Ginobli before I ever had a chance to watch him play. When I did finally return stateside in time for the last half of the season, I was encouraged by his flashes, forgiving of his flaws, and thrilled by most everything about him. I saw him becoming the next great folk hero for the Lakers, filling the void left by Fisher as the lovable underdog who defies the odds and comes through big when you least expect.
Then the postseason came and I repeatedly had to resist the urge to chuck my remote through the screen each time he got lost on the pick-and-roll. Granted Nash has a tendency to make even quality defenders look foolish, but Smush's decision-making on the offensive end was even more mind-blowingly atrocious. Other than a decent performance in a Kobe-off-night during Game 3, we were treated to what would soon become all-too-typical FGM-A lines of 5-13, 2-12, 1-7, 0-5, and 4-13. For the series Smusher went 3 of 30 from outside. How he had the greenlight to hoist up 6 threes in game 7 will remain a far bigger mystery to me than Kobe's much discussed second-half disappearing act. To round out one of the worst post-season performances I've ever witnessed, he managed to collect 11 assists, 12 turnovers, and 24 fouls across the seven games. I hold him personally accountable for the Lakers blowing that series.
Now I realize I said at the beginning of this post I said I wanted this to be a fond look back, and I did intend it that way initially, but the frustration from revisiting those box scores was too hard to contain. So let me take a step back and explain that I truly am grateful for what he contributed and that I will miss him just a little bit. Despite the constant headaches, what is often lost in the Smush discussion is that the Lakers asked a guy making less than $800,000 who had averaged 3 points-per-game the previous season to be the starting PG and acted upset when he underperformed. For most of the 06-07 season, 4 guards all making more than him (combining for more than 6m in salary: McKie, Shammond, Farmar, and Sasha) sat behind him on the depth chart. Sasha freaking Vujacic was out-earning him and we were surprised that he developed an inferiority complex? As 82games points out, for the 05-06 season Smush was about the best bargain any team could possibly hope for, making about 5 million less than he was apparently worth. Statistically that year he was the Lakers third most important player (not saying much on that roster) and the only player outside of Kobe and Odom to play more than 50% of the season's minutes. Now, I'm not saying I'm sad to see him go, or that his presence on the court come playoff time didn't make me want to pull my hair out, but I do think the derision aimed at him by Lakers fans often overlooks the contributions he did make and that the vast majority of the blame lies with management for putting him in that position.
Now that I've long-windedly tried to express the love-hate relationship that Smush provoked, how do I feel about the Heat's signing? While the Heat haven't yet revealed all the terms, last night's anon reported the deal as 2-years at 5 mil. If true, the length is good, the size obviously is not. Some fans (such as Kurt of FB&G) believe he could become "an effective backup coming in behind a star PG in a more open system." Clearly the Jason Williams-led Heat are not such a situation. I personally question his ability to ever become a decent role-player. I don't know if it's because of his playground days in Coney Island, but he unquestionably has the mindset of a star trapped with the skills of a journeyman, a problematic combination. If he could consistently play near the level he showed he was capable of during his peaks while playing in small doses he'd be a terrific backup for sure. But while playing in spells, Smush is far too prone to lose either his focus, his intensity, his desire, his confidence, or some combination thereof. He has the athleticism of an NBA player, and has at times showed the ability to become a decent streak shooter, but his problems appear to be overwhelmingly mental. While he'll be sulky if you don't rely on him, he'll fall apart if you rely on him too much. If Phil couldn't navigate that personality, I have no reason to think that Riley could. I do wish him the best and would be thrilled to see him beat out White Chocolate for minutes, but I don't see his stay with the Heat being very different than his tenure with the Lakers.
Riley's quote that "He brings size, shooting and defense to our backcourt" is 1/3 true: he does bring size. But the Herald's assertion that he's "considered a strong on-the-ball defender and three-point shooter" is definitely news to me. Riley continues that "He has been improving every year, and we feel that this could be his best year yet." Translation: "Muthafuck Milwaukee." The GM's line,"Smush has been the starting point guard of a playoff team the past two seasons," is a similarly pathetic attempt at looking on the bright side. While it's technically true that he did start for a team that went to the playoffs, it's hard to forget that he lost that starting job to a rookie two games before said playoffs. Then again, who knew this fascinating factoid: "Parker is one of four players with at least 110 steals and 110 3-point field goals in each of the past two seasons. Gilbert Arenas, Kobe Bryant and Jason Kidd are the others." Without the bitter, the sweet ain't as sweet.