Malone saying final goodbyes to Utah

Updated: August 5, 2003, 2:22 PM ET

SALT LAKE CITY -- Karl Malone isn't getting sized for an NBA championship ring just yet.

After consecutive trips to the finals that resulted only in disappointment, Malone knows how easy it is for a good team to get close but not quite reach the top. Now as a member of potentially great team, he isn't looking at it any differently.

"The reason I'm staying cautious is a lot of things have to happen," said Malone, who is approaching his first season as a Los Angeles Laker after 18 years with the Utah Jazz.

"All of us have to jell together really quick, which I don't think will be a problem. And we all have to stay healthy."

Malone is saying his final goodbyes to Utah, where he has played since being taken with the 13th pick in the 1985 draft. He and his wife, Kay, held a news conference Tuesday to announce plans for an open house he's hosting Friday night at the Delta Center, where he will play for the first time as an opponent Jan. 24.

Malone was anxious last week when the NBA schedule was released to see when he'd be returning to Utah.

"Basically you always say 'It's going to be another road game.' After 18 years in one place, it's going to be a special road game," he said.

Malone said after such a long stay, he is somewhat sad to be leaving, but also is excited to join a team that also includes Shaquille O'Neal, Kobe Bryant and Gary Payton.

Malone said he's spoken with several of his new teammates, but not Bryant, who is due in a Colorado court room Wednesday on a sexual assault charge.

"I'm not going to comment on that ... other than to say I support Kobe," Malone said. "It's a tough situation, but we'll get through it, I'm sure."

Malone is preparing to start working out with the U.S. national team as it prepares for an Olympic qualifying tournament. By the time he's done with the national team, it will almost be time to report to the Lakers, so Malone wanted to say goodbye to Salt Lake City and Jazz fans now.

And he knows that joining the Lakers, who are among the most hated opponents as far as Jazz fans are concerned, will lead to some "boos" when he makes his return. But Malone feels he should still have some fans left in town after scoring the second-highest point total in NBA history, winning two MVP awards and helping lead the Jazz to the 1997 and '98 finals.

"I think the real Karl Malone fans will come out. We don't know if there are going to be 50 people, 100 people or 1,000," Malone said of Friday's event. "The people that's going to be there, we're looking forward to spending the afternoon with them."

This story is from ESPN.com's automated news wire. Wire index