Marty Burns
Thursday January 27th, 2005

Denver GM Kiki Vandeweghe sure hopes so. The reason the Nuggets made this move now, rather than wait until after the season when more coaching candidates might be available, was ostensibly to make the playoffs this season. Denver believes it can't afford to take a step backward after making the playoffs a year ago and risk losing all those fans they worked so hard to bring back into the fold. Karl is the kind of big-name coach who will command respect in the locker room -- at least in the short term. He also has experience turning around a team in midseason. In 1992 he took over a Sonics squad that was 20-20 (under K.C. Jones and Bob Kloppenburg) and guided them to the playoffs and a first-round upset of the Warriors.

But Karl is also coming off two notable failures, first with the Anthony Mason/Bucks fiasco and then with the U.S. men's team at the '02 World Championships. The Nuggets veterans surely know his recent history, and it remains to be seen how they will respond to him if things don't go well right off the bat. Also, Karl apparently is closer to Denver owner Stan Kroenke than he is to Vandeweghe, which could lead to an uncomfortable working arrangement. These are issues the Nuggets are willing to overlook in hopes Karl can work his magic again.

No way. While Knicks boss Isiah Thomas suggested recently that Houston might retire if he can't shake the chronic knee pain that has bothered him the past two years, chalk it up to wishful thinking on New York's part. Houston is due to make $39.8 million over the next two seasons after this one. There is no way he is giving up that kind of cheddar. Houston's agent, William Strickland, told the New York Daily News he and his client have never discussed the issue.

Thomas obviously is concerned about Houston's long-term future. The onetime Knicks cornerstone has not looked like the same player since undergoing microfracture knee surgery two years ago. He has missed the last three games with knee soreness, and has struggled to run and jump all season. Last year he had to shut it down at the end of the season, missing New York's first-round playoff series. But even if Houston were to decide to hang it up, the Knicks would not get salary cap relief. Houston's contract stays on the books unless New York can prove the retirement was caused by a career-ending injury. For all practical purposes then, the only benefit to the Knicks should Houston retire would be to either get some payroll relief in the form of a buyout or get insurance to pick up part of his salary.

No, it's not because they're planning another sequel to Airplane so Kareem can reprise his role as a co-pilot. The reason the former Lakers legend might be feeling better these days is because of the news out of L.A. this week that Karl Malone is seriously considering retiring.

As recently as last week it was believed the Mailman was going to join the Spurs or Heat for another shot at the long-elusive NBA championship ring. If Malone, who is apparently healthy but otherwise unmotivated, decides to stay home this season, Kareem can rest easy that his all-time scoring record will hold up. Malone needs 1,460 points to surpass Kareem on the all-time list, which means he'd probably have to play at least 30 games this season just to put himself in position to break it next year. If he sits out this season and then decides to come back in '05-06, he'd need to average 17.8 points over 82 games to break the record. Given that Malone averaged just 13.2 points in 42 games last year with the Lakers, it's highly unlikely he'd be able to do it. With no other active NBA player even close to Kareem, it looks as if Malone's decision to stay out could mean Abdul-Jabbar's record now could stand for a long, long time.

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