Los Angeles Mitch Kupchak was told he had an important telephone call, and the first words he heard were rather upsetting.
"Mitch, it's Karl. I've got good news and bad news. Which do you want first?"
After a brief silence, the Los Angeles Lakers' general manager sighed and replied: "The bad news."
"He said, 'Ha, ha, there is no bad news,'" Kupchak recalled Thursday at a news conference introducing the Lakers' free-agent signees Karl Malone and Gary Payton.
The Lakers hope that by lining up Malone and Payton with younger players Shaquille O'Neal and Kobe Bryant, the joke will be on the rest of the NBA.
"We've got a mission," said Malone, the second-leading scorer in league history. "Anything less than a championship is going to be a disappointment for a lot of people.
"From our first preseason game, we want to crush people."
The Lakers won three straight championships before losing to eventual champion San Antonio in the Western Conference semifinals.
Malone, 40 next week, and Payton, five years younger, signed at discount prices Tuesday -- minutes after the free-agent signing period officially began.