Malone jumps on Lakers bandwagon

Power forward joins Payton, Bryant, O'Neal

The Orange County Register

EL SEGUNDO, Calif. -- NBA championships are supposed to be won in June, not July.

Yet when Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak's phone rang Thursday and it was Karl Malone committing to sign a more cut-rate deal than Gary Payton had two days earlier, it would have been understandable to see confetti flutter from the ceilings in the Lakers' offices in El Segundo.

Power forward Malone and lead guard Payton, two future Hall of Famers still ranking among the league's top players, are coming to beef up the Lakers' two weakest positions. With Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O'Neal -- both of whom were previously consulted about the acquisitions -- the Lakers have brought these four pieces together to make up for missing a four-peat.


"Karl knows only one thing, and that's to play your hardest and give it your all," said Malone's Newport Beach-based agent Dwight Manley. "And he looks forward to playing on a team of people doing the same thing at the highest level."

Malone, who turns 40 on July 24, is the most accomplished in the group. He is the only player in NBA history with 35,000 points, 10,000 rebounds, 4,000 assists and 2,000 steals. Yet he is accepting extreme financial sacrifice in hopes of winning his first title.

O'Neal, Bryant and Payton together will make almost $45 million next season; Malone will get $1.5 million.

Despite the Lakers being unable to offer more money, Manley said: "The Lakers are a perfect fit. He (Malone) felt very comfortable with it."

Along the way, O'Neal and Lakers vice president Magic Johnson -- prodded by Kupchak -- did outstanding sales jobs. Johnson offered to bring his No. 32 Lakers jersey out of retirement for Malone -- an offer that Malone is accepting.

"Magic and Shaq played integral parts," Manley said. "Magic gave Karl his blessing to wear No. 32, and Karl said he'd be honored to wear it. With Shaq, they both have ties to Louisiana and go back far."

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