Thursday report

Even with one of the best names in the NBA, Smush Parker is an easy guy to overlook on the Lakers. Just ask yourself if you realized Parker was going to be starting his 125th consecutive game Friday against the Charlotte Bobcats.

Not bad for a guy whos making the minimum salary ($798,112) for a fourth-year player and went undrafted out of Fordham. Parkers also had a pretty good January, averaging 13.1 points, shooting 52.2 percent and making Orlando coach Brian Hill eat his words.

One of the big questions for the second half of the season is how Parker fits into the Lakers future. Will he be a starting guard on a team with championship aspirations or is he best suited to come off the bench?

If Parker projects as a bench player, then the Lakers have to ask if they want to re-sign him. They already have Jordan Farmar and Sasha Vujacic under contract to fill that role next season.

Parker will be looking for money and minutes when he hits the free-agent market this summer. The Lakers could offer him a deal as long as five years for as much as the average player salary ($5.215 million this season).

He has spent two seasons playing in the triangle offense, which is far from the easiest offense to learn. You would have to start over with another guard you bring in, unless you decide Farmar can start in his second year.

The Lakers are over the salary cap for next season but the luxury-tax threshold is the more important consideration. The tax number was $65.42 million this season. Itll probably go up to $68 million or so this summer.

With a payroll of $58 million for next season, the Lakers probably will have $10 million or so to spend. They have four players who will become free agents in Parker, Luke Walton, Chris Mihm and Shammond Williams.

(In addition, they have to crunch numbers accordingly with Andrew Bynum eligible for a big contract extension as of July 1, 2008. This doesnt get mentioned as much as it should given how significant it will be for the Lakers.)

If the Lakers wanted to upgrade at guard, their best bet probably is through a trade. Its hard to find a more appealing player on the list of free agents who would be willing to sign for the $5.215 million midlevel exception.

Of course, Parker just as easily could leave if another team were to make him an offer for midlevel money or for a sizable chunk of it.

One other thing: The Lakers arent obligated to use their midlevel exception on Walton or Parker. They control the free-agent rights to both players – - in Waltons case the full Bird rights and the early Bird rights to Parker.

Its a drag, of course, to think about these things when youre trying to enjoy a game. But its the reality of the situation facing Parker and the Lakers the rest of the season. No matter what, though, Parkers proven he belongs in the NBA.

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By Ross Siler
Staff Writer

EL SEGUNDO–The Charlotte Bobcats have been in business for all of 2 1-2 seasons, compiling a 58-147 record in that time, while barely meeting the NBAs minimum team salary of $39.85 million this season.

Yet its the Bobcats who have given the Lakers “hell in the words of Kobe Bryant. They took down the Lakers 133-124 in triple-overtime at home on Dec. 29 and will be at Staples Center tonight for the rematch.

It will be a last stand of sorts for the Lakers, who have dropped more games to doormat teams than they care to remember. The past month has seen losses to Charlotte, Memphis and New Orleans, teams with a combined record of 41-84.

“Our thing all year is we know we can play with the best teams, Luke Walton said. “But to be one of the best teams, weve got to beat these sub-.500 teams. Were aware of that and weve been talking about it, so weve got to start making it happen now.’

Lakers coach Phil Jackson borrowed from one of his players in describing the string of recent losses as “haunting the team.

“For us, its just going out there and playing hard all the time – - all the time – - and understanding that were trying to play for something bigger, Bryant said. “If we can keep that in our minds eye, we should be OK.

“But its always about effort when you play against teams like (Charlotte) because theyre going to come out and theyre going to bring it. In the NBA, any team can beat you on any given night if youre not ready.

The Bobcats now have beaten the Lakers twice in Charlotte and nearly won last season at Staples Center. Brevin Knight missed two free throws with 11 seconds remaining and the Lakers escaped with a 99-98 victory.

While the Bobcats could be down four big men tonight, the Lakers will welcome the return of Lamar Odom, who missed 21 games with a sprained knee ligament. The Lakers have given up 110 points per game this month without Odom or Kwame Brown.

Star gazing: For the ninth time, Bryant has been selected to the All-Star Game. He received the third-most votes of any player (behind LeBron James and Yao Ming) and will start for the Western Conference in the Feb. 18 game in Las Vegas.

“Its going to be a lot of energy, Bryant said. “All-Star weekend normally is a lot of energy, and then you put it in Vegas, its going to be through the roof.

Bryant was asked if this might be the worst-played All-Star Game simply because of the late hours everyone will be keeping in Sin City.

“It could be the best played, Bryant countered, “just because you dont want to have an All-Star Game in Vegas and go out there and have somebody wear you out.

Big bucks: The Lakers remain the second most valued franchise in the NBA after the New York Knicks, according to Forbes magazines annual report released Thursday. Forbes estimated the Lakers value at $568 million, up from $529 million last season.

By returning to the playoffs, the Lakers revenues were estimated at $167 million, only $3 million shy of the estimated revenue from the 2003-04 season before the Shaquille ONeal trade.

Also: Forward Ronny Turiaf missed practice Thursday to get a new visa. Turiaf lost his passport and was heading to Tijuana, Mexico, to re-enter the country, Jackson said.

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