Torn MCL suspected

Updated: June 16, 2004, 1:06 AM ET
Associated Press

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."

Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press