Now or never for Malone
Turns out, though, that such a pull-back might not be far off, should Malone continue to greet San Antonio's offer with silence.
The Spurs have been checking in with agent Dwight Manley all season to let Malone know that they'll be armed with a contract when he's prepared to play. That's because Spurs coach Gregg Popovich and Malone have an established relationship, and because San Antonio could use some frontline fortification with Rasho Nesterovic struggling mightily and playoff legend Robert Horry, at 34, coming off two straight ineffectual postseasons.
When he ruled out a return to the Lakers last month, after the hubbub involving Kobe Bryant's wife Vanessa, sources say Malone decided that the Spurs were the only team he'd consent to play for now. But the signals have never been stronger that Mailman, 41, might really be ready to retire, just 1,459 points shy of breaking Kareem Abdul-Jabbar's all-time scoring record.
Manley told ESPN.com in November that a formal decision was likely in early January after Malone spent the holidays with family. He has since declined multiple interview requests with a no-comment-at-this-time stance.
Miami remains interested as well, since Mailman is a free agent and since Alonzo Mourning -- the other veteran power player Shaquille O'Neal wouldn't mind recruiting -- is still Toronto property and fighting health issues. Yet Malone has never shown a willingness to play in the East.
That there has been some serious huddling going on in Minnesota, with even owner Glen Taylor reaching out to Kevin Garnett to brainstorm for antidotes to the Wolves' growing slump. But it's not an easy fix, because the Wolves have been suffering from a Pistons-like, team-wide intensity shortage. Even though its leader is the NBA's intensity king, Minnesota simply hasn't played with the same hunger seen last season, when the Wolves were still a team yet to get out of the first round. Is it Flip Saunders' fault? Hardly. Not with Sam Cassell seemingly bothered more than he'll admit by the residual effects of serious hip surgery, Latrell Sprewell likewise aging -- and shrinking in production after his loud calls for a fat contract extension -- and a few vets who have been paid underperforming. Troy Hudson is one example; Trenton Hassell is another, after KG personally lobbied Taylor to match Hassell's contract offer from Portland. The Wolves appear to have too much talent, and not enough of it committed to playing good defense. The list of Wolves playing hard enough these days to meet Garnett's standards starts and ends with Fred Hoiberg and, yes, Wally Szczerbiak. ...
That Jeff Bzdelik was far from surprised to be dismissed by Denver less than halfway through the season. I'm told that Bzdelik confessed to more than one colleague that he feared he had lost the team as early as Week 1, when the Nuggets started 1-4. They rallied briefly with a 9-3 surge, but that had more to do with a weak, home-heavy schedule than any long-lasting recovery. ...
And that the Mavericks are very serious when they says they're out of the Jason Kidd sweepstakes, a topic sure to come up this weekend when Kidd makes his only Dallas appearance of the season. The Mavericks were close to trading for Kidd in the summer, with a package built around the expiring contract of Antoine Walker, who was later dealt to Atlanta. But sources insist that even the free-spending Mark Cuban is unwilling to absorb Kidd's contract now, given the possibility of even stricter luxury-tax penalties being implemented before next season when the league and union hammer out the next Collective Bargaining Agreement. Similar concerns prompted Portland to abandon its pursuit of Vince Carter before New Jersey got him.
Not exactly. He didn't say it quite like that when we spoke last week.
But maybe folks shouldn't be surprised that coach Rudy Tomjanovich, in L.A.'s back-to-back victories over Houston and Minnesota, called for the Lakers to return to some of Phil Jackson's triangle sets.
Speaking last Wednesday about how much closer teams guard him these days, Bryant said, "In the past it was a little harder to key in on me, because I was constantly on the move."
Reason being: Paxson is perpetually worried that Curry and/or Tyson Chandler will blossom as soon as they go somewhere else, as several young Bulls of recent vintage did after Jerry Krause dumped them. Or have you forgotten Elton Brand, Brad Miller and Ron Artest? Hassell, too.
Hard to argue with the patient approach now. The Bulls are suddenly meshing better than they have since the Jordan Era despite the fact that Paxson's top six players include three rookies (Luol Deng, Ben Gordon and Andres Nocioni), second-year floor leader Kirk Hinrich and Curry and Chandler as the old-timers.