Agent says Malone feels betrayed

Updated: December 8, 2004, 8:22 PM ET news services

LOS ANGELES -- Karl Malone has apparently ruled out a return to the Los Angeles Lakers because of comments made by Kobe Bryant in a radio interview, Malone's agent said Tuesday.

Karl Malone

"Karl is furious," agent Dwight Manley told The Associated Press. "He felt very disrespected and betrayed after personally being the first to stand up for Kobe over the last year throughout his rape charge and all he went through."

"Who's had Kobe Bryant's back?" Malone said to The (Riverside, Calif.) Press-Enterprise. "What did he do for me?"

Manley said remarks made by Bryant on Monday, coupled with what the agent called "recent personal attacks made in private," led Malone to his decision.

Kobe Bryant

Asked if Malone might play elsewhere, Manley replied: "This certainly opens up that possibility."

Manley first told radio station KMPC of Malone's decision.

Malone said later Tuesday that he would rather not use "those strong words on saying I'm not coming back."

"I wish them the best," he told The Press-Enterprise. "Whether I play or not, I wish them the best. And I was seriously, seriously considering coming back."

"I didn't come to take anybody's glory, anybody's accolades, anybody's anything," Malone told KCBS-TV in a telephone interview. "But if it seems to me that that is what I'm doing, then I would rather move on and turn the page in my life.

"If that's your star player, you want him to want you on the team, right? I don't want to be anybody's distraction."

"Is there any way I can come back and play for the Lakers?" Malone told the newspaper. "You gave a person 100 percent control of an organization -- 100! -- and that person don't want you there. ... How can it be a way for me to play for the Lakers?" reported in August that Malone had informed new Lakers coach Rudy Tomjanovich that, if he plays a 20th season, he would only sign with the Lakers. Malone and Manley later had lunch with Lakers owner Jerry Buss on the eve of training camp to let Buss know that Malone wouldn't sign with another team.

But San Antonio and Minnesota continue to check in regularly with Malone, according to league sources, promising to save a roster spot for him.

Bryant told XTRA on Monday he didn't believe Malone, who is recovering from knee surgery, would come back to the Lakers, calling it "just intuition."

"It's not really fair to hold it over the guys' heads that are here," Bryant said. "The guys that we have here are working hard, practicing hard every day. It's kind of tough for them to be looking over their shoulder, wondering if he's going to come back and then everybody is going to disappear.

"They are here giving me 110 percent. It's really not fair for us to sit around and speculate how long this is going to go on. I mean, you can't sit up here and speculate for the remainder of the season whether or not he is going to come back. I mean, that's not fair to the guys that are working here."

It's not about the Lakers, I love the Lakers. It's about your main guy saying he doesn't want me. I'm a big enough man to understand that, so I'm going to get on with my life, and I've got a great life.
Karl Malone

Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak said in a statement he hoped Manley's comments did not accurately reflect Malone's feelings about returning to the Lakers.

"If so, it is unfortunate that he would make such a decision based on the reason given," the statement added. "Kobe Bryant's interview ... merely reflected his personal opinion that Karl would probably not return to play this season. Kobe did not at any time state that Karl was not returning, nor was Kobe speaking on behalf of the Lakers management or organization."

Malone, 41, told the Lakers on Oct. 1 he was still recovering from arthroscopic surgery he underwent three months earlier on his right knee and wasn't ready to play. But he didn't rule out returning at some point this season or beyond. He did turn down a consulting job offered to him in October by Buss, however.

Manley and Kupchak had dinner Friday before the Lakers game, and progress had been made with regard to Malone's future with the team, Manley told the Los Angeles Times.

"This is a pretty emotional, traumatic thing," he said. "We were really working toward doing a deal with the Lakers that was really moving in an off-court capacity and potential on-court capacity. All those discussions have stopped at Karl's direction."

"It's not about the Lakers, I love the Lakers," Malone told the Times. "It's about your main guy saying he doesn't want me. I'm a big enough man to understand that, so I'm going to get on with my life, and I've got a great life."

He told The Press-Enterprise that Bryant had too much power for Malone to be comfortable with the team if the younger player didn't want him there.

"Who can tell Kobe Bryant to shut up?" Malone said. "They gave him that power. ... You turn your franchise over to one man and that one man don't like you ... I have respect for so many of those brothers on that team that I would have loved -- absolutely loved -- to have played with them. But I have to do what I have to do, and it's unfortunate."

Malone, the second-leading scorer in NBA history, opted out of his $1.65 million contract following last season, making him a free agent.

After playing 18 seasons for the Utah Jazz, Malone joined the Lakers before last season in search of his first championship. He took a pay cut of about $18 million to sign for $1.5 million.

"Karl sacrificed financially to come to L.A., he sacrificed personally," Manley said. "He put his name and reputation on the line, put his arm around Kobe and said he was a good kid, tried to be his friend, told people to give him the benefit of the doubt.

"And now, basically, to get stabbed in the back, that's how he feels. This has ended any possibility of Karl returning to the Lakers in any capacity."

Malone and Bryant live about six blocks apart in Newport Beach.

Manley said his client is fully recovered from knee surgery and 100 percent physically.

"Karl will have something to say, probably in the next month or so, about his future," Manley said. "It will likely be after the first of the year. I'm personally crossing my fingers that he decides to play."

Several teams, including at least San Antonio, Minnesota, Dallas and Miami, expressed interest in Malone during the offseason. He wouldn't say which team he'd prefer, but The Press-Enterprise reported that the Spurs appear to be the leading candidate.

While with the Lakers, Malone was one of the few players who was close with both Bryant and O'Neal. Bryant signed a $136.4 million contract last summer to remain with the Lakers while O'Neal was traded to Miami.

Malone told The Press-Enterprise he believed that Bryant's wish not to have O'Neal and coach Phil Jackson with the Lakers was behind O'Neal's being traded to Miami and Jackson's contract not being renewed.

"You [Bryant] told me you didn't want me on your team -- on your team! -- I get the message loud and clear," Malone told the newspaper. "And that ain't from my agent. That's from me."

Malone played in 1,434 of a possible 1,444 regular-season games with the Jazz, but missed 40 games with the Lakers -- 39 after tearing a knee ligament Dec. 21 against Phoenix.

He returned in March and played a key role as the Lakers reached the NBA Finals before losing to the Detroit Pistons in five games.

Malone reinjured his knee in Game 2 of the finals, was limited in Games 3 and 4 and didn't play in Game 5. The Lakers lost the last three games.

Malone had played in 193 straight playoff games with the Jazz and Lakers before having to sit out the last game of the finals.

Considered one of the best power forwards in NBA history, Malone averaged a career-low 13.2 points and 8.7 rebounds in 42 games last season, leaving him with career averages of 25.0 points and 10.1 rebounds.

His 36,928 points in 1,476 games trails only Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, who finished his career with 38,387 points in 1,560 games.

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.