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Torn MCL suspected

6/16/2004

AUBURN HILLS, Mich. -- After sitting out Game 5 of the NBA
Finals with what he believes to be a torn medial collateral
ligament in his right knee, Karl Malone said he won't play next
season unless he's completely healthy.

"It's too early to talk about that," Malone said after
watching the Detroit Pistons beat his Lakers 100-87 Tuesday night
to win the best-of-seven series 4-1.

"I just want to take time to think clearly about what I'm going
to do," Malone said. "I want to give them an answer as soon as
possible. If I can't be 100 percent by training camp, I'll make
that decision (to retire). I won't disrespect myself and
basketball."

Malone, the NBA's second-leading career scorer, said he plans to
get an MRI in the next couple of days and go from there, although
he has said repeatedly he's certain he has a torn ligament.

"I'll make the right decision, whichever one it is," he said.
"I have to be 100 percent, not 95 or 99."

The 40-year-old Malone walked onto The Palace court in street
clothes shortly before what turned out to be the last game of the
finals began. Slava Medvedenko started in his place, and Malone
gave his replacement a hug and whispered a few words into his ear
shortly before the opening tipoff.

Medvedenko made four baskets and had an assist in the first six
minutes as the Lakers took a 14-7 lead, but the Pistons went ahead
for good late in the first quarter.

Medvedenko finished with 10 points to become the first Lakers
player other than Shaquille O'Neal and Kobe Bryant to reach double
figures in the finals. Derek Fisher also finished with 10 points.

If Malone's diagnosis is accurate, it's the same as the injury
he sustained in December that caused him to miss 39 regular-season
games. The Lakers have been calling it a sprain. He had refused to
have an MRI, saying it wasn't necessary because he knows the
severity of his injury.

Malone had nine points and nine rebounds while playing 39
minutes in Game 2 despite being injured early in the game. He spent
a brief time in the locker room early in the second quarter and
argued with trainer Gary Vitti before re-entering the game, won by
the Lakers 99-91 in overtime.

Malone was limited to 18 minutes in Game 3 and 21 minutes in
Game 4 -- both Detroit victories. He came out for good midway
through the third quarter in both games and had a difficult time
while on the court, although he was able to contribute to some
degree on defense and with rebounding.

"Two games I played, I shouldn't," he said. "Tonight, I just
couldn't go. Those were two of the most difficult games I've ever
played. I got hurt on a freak accident. I made a cut and it just
went out on me.

"It was just disappointing. I got hurt and we never recovered.
I think it took something out of the guys."

Malone injured his knee in the Western Conference finals against
Minnesota, but kept it quiet as the series went on. He had the knee
drained June 1 -- a day after the Lakers eliminated the Timberwolves
and five days before Game 1 of the NBA Finals.

Malone joined the Lakers last summer in search of his first
championship. He played his first 18 seasons in Utah, leading the
Jazz to the finals in 1997 and 1998. But they lost to the Chicago
Bulls both times. He is under contract with Los Angeles for one
more season, but can opt out if he decides.

He was almost completely injury-free in Utah, playing in 1,434
of a possible 1,444 regular-season games.

"All the things that have happened this year, other than not
winning, I would go right back into battle with these guys," he
said. "I'm disappointed we didn't win, but not with my team.

"I'd say this whole season has been a blur starting with my
mom."

Malone's mother died suddenly of heart failure last August.

Lakers coach Phil Jackson said the Lakers couldn't recover
following Malone's latest injury.

"Karl was really our energy around the court," Jackson said.
"He was a guy that could get rebounds for us and do a lot of the
things that we had to have done on screen-roll defense and we
missed him tonight, a lot, and we missed him through this series."

Malone said he had big plans after he retires, whenever that
might be.

"I'm thinking big all the time," he said. "My void will be
filled because I've got a lot other than basketball. The future is
very bright even if it doesn't include basketball."