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Archive for Friday, July 11, 2003

Malone headed to Lakers

Utah veteran seeks title in Los Angeles

July 11, 2003

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— The Los Angeles Lakers' dream team could give the rest of the NBA nightmares.

Free agent Karl Malone, the NBA's second-leading all-time scorer, committed Thursday to join the Lakers, who are quickly becoming one of the most star-studded teams in history.

He joins Shaquille O'Neal, Kobe Bryant and another newcomer, Gary Payton, a nine-time All-Star who agreed earlier this week to play for the Lakers.

"They have a Hall of Fame team in the making," New Jersey Nets assistant coach Lawrence Frank said. "They have an outstanding team, an outstanding system and an outstanding coach.

"You always try to keep up with the Joneses and try to win in this league, but it's hard to keep up with that. We have to look for improvement from within."

O'Neal and Magic Johnson had a hand in luring Malone to L.A.

"The two strongest influences were Shaquille and Magic," said Malone's agent, Dwight Manley. "He's going to become a Laker. In his mind, he's already a Laker. He's very excited."

With O'Neal in the middle flanked by Malone, and the gifted Bryant and Payton in the backcourt, the Lakers probably would be favored to take the league title next year even if Jack Nicholson left his courtside seat and joined the starting lineup.

"They've upgraded their team immensely and have to be considered the favorite for next season," Frank said.

Even though Payton and Malone have reached agreements with the team, the first day free agents can sign contracts is Wednesday.

The Lakers won three consecutive NBA titles before losing to eventual champion San Antonio in the second round this year. Afterward, O'Neal and Bryant indicated they would like to have more help from their "supporting cast" next season.

They got more than they probably could have imagined.

Neither Malone, a two-time league MVP, nor Payton have played on an NBA championship team. Both were willing to take whopping pay cuts to have a shot at a ring with the Lakers.

Malone, who turns 40 on July 24, made it to the NBA Finals twice, in 1997 and 1998. Both times, the Jazz lost to Michael Jordan and Chicago. The Bulls' coach was Phil Jackson, now coach of the Lakers.

Malone averaged 20.6 points last season to lead Utah for the 17th consecutive year. His average of 7.75 rebounds was the team's highest for the 18th straight year.

Before joining the Lakers for next season, Malone has committed to play in his third Olympics.

Malone apparently was most interested in playing for the Lakers, but Manley said, "He was exploring a lot of options up to the last minute."

Although Utah Jazz owner Larry Miller was sorry to see Malone go, he understood his championship hopes.

"I don't think it's in me to deny him that, even if I could," Miller said, adding that joining Los Angeles' other three superstars seems a good bet for Malone's championship hopes.

"If you've got to go with the odds, that's not a bad place to go," Miller said.

Malone's 36,374 career points trail only Kareem Abdul-Jabbar's 38,387. The record is still within range, but sharing the offense with Bryant, O'Neal and Payton will cut into his 25.4 career scoring average.

He is the only player with 35,000 points, 10,000 rebounds, 4,000 assists and 2,000 steals. His 1,434 games played is fourth on the all-time list.

The league's MVP in 1997 and 1999, Malone averaged at least 25 points for 11 straight seasons (1987-98).

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