By KEN PETERS, AP Sports Writer
July 10, 2003
LOS ANGELES (AP) -- Free agent Karl Malone, the NBA's second-leading all-time scorer, committed Thursday to join the Los Angeles Lakers, giving them a lineup with four superstars.
``We've agreed to it; he's going to become a Laker,'' Malone's agent, Dwight Manley, said Thursday. ``In his mind, he's already a Laker. He's very excited.''
Malone 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.
Even though Payton and Malone have reached agreements with the team, the first day free agents can sign contracts is Wednesday.
The Lakers, who won three consecutive NBA titles before losing to eventual champion San Antonio in the second round this year, probably would have been a clear favorite to win it all next year merely by getting Payton. Malone obviously makes them even more imposing.
``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.''
Neither Malone, a two-time league MVP, nor Payton have played on an NBA championship team. Both were willing to take big 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 Thursday, adding that joining Los Angeles' other three superstars seems a good bet for Malone to get a ring.
``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).
Malone, who made $19.3 million last year, reportedly will get the veteran's minimum salary of $1.5 million with the Lakers.
The 34-year-old Payton, dealt by Seattle to Milwaukee at last season's trading deadline, would be limited to earning $4.9 million with Los Angeles in the first year of a multiyear contract. He earned $12.6 million.
O'Neal will make $26.5 million this season and Bryant will get $13.5 million.
One of the league's best defensive guards, Payton has averaged 18.3 points and 7.4 assists since coming into the NBA with the SuperSonics in 1990.
With a lineup of four players who all will probably end up in the Hall of Fame, the Lakers will be one of the NBA's most imposing teams ever.
``It looks like they're putting together an All-Star team over there,'' Nets guard Tamar Slay said. ``That's crazy, getting all those guys. In this league, everyone's competitive, but it looks like they've made a major step.''
The 1984-85 Lakers featured Magic Johnson, Abdul-Jabbar, James Worthy and Bob McAdoo. Boston had Larry Bird, Kevin McHale, Bill Walton and Robert Parish the following season.
AP Sports Writer Doug Alden in Salt Lake City contributed to this report.