Why the Jazz should look to deal Karl Malone
In the past week Karl Malone bought a gerbil for his children,
changed the oil on his motorcycle and took his wife to dinner,
but none of that took his mind off what lies ahead for the Jazz:
Shooting guard Jeff Hornacek has retired, John Stockton will
follow him after next season and coach Jerry Sloan is likely to
be on Stockton's heels. Malone will be alone. Nobody executed
the pick-and-roll like Stockton and Malone. No coach emphasized
fundamentals like Sloan. Utah was the NBA's version of
Pleasantville: no fighting, no drug problems, not even any
flashy dunks, for crying out loud.
But the glory days are over. Utah looked old and vulnerable in
losing to the Trail Blazers in five games in the Western
Conference semifinals. "I've thought about [quitting]," Malone
says. "I say to myself, Should I retire [early] because everyone
else is? Or do I say to myself, I can still play this game?
"You think about retiring, but then you suit up, and you're out
there running and scoring. The game is getting easier for me,
not harder. I still command a double team. I've always said I'll
keep playing until they say, 'Aw, we'll give that to him.' Then
I'll know it's time to go."
Malone will be 37 on July 24, but when you are a chiseled, 6'9",
255-pound power forward who is perhaps the best ever at that
position, who has missed only six games in 15 seasons and might
be the best-conditioned guy in the league, age is not a concern.
That is why Utah owner Larry Miller should do Malone a favor and
trade him to a contender.
Malone is on the books for a salary of $15.75 million next
season, but that won't stop a number of teams from bidding for
his services if he becomes available. Think, for a moment, how
devastating Malone would be in a Knicks uniform. Or picture him
running the floor alongside Scottie Pippen in Portland. Those
two franchises have deep pockets, and neither has been shy about
pulling off a big deal.
So what's in it for Miller? He rewards his 12-time All-Star for
years of meritorious service with a chance to win the
championship, and, at the same time, gives Utah a running start
on the rebuilding process by making a multiplayer swap for, say,
Allan Houston of New York or Steve Smith and Jermaine O'Neal of
the Blazers. Sure, Miller could wait another year, but each
passing season diminishes his leverage.
"Do I think about being traded? Hell, yes," Malone admits.
"Could I go somewhere else? My loyalty is with the Jazz. It
would be strange to wear a different uniform. I signed an
extension [which runs for three more years] knowing those guys
would be gone by the time [my contract is] up. So, really, it's
not for me to say."
There's something almost sacrilegious about the idea of breaking
up Malone and Stockton with only one year left together--on top
of everything else, trading Malone would leave Stockton alone to
play out the string--but look what sentiment did for the great
Celtics teams of the '80s. They had opportunities to trade Kevin
McHale and Robert Parish but held on to their Big Three (Larry
Bird was the untouchable third), got nothing for any of them and
have wallowed in mediocrity ever since.
If Utah keeps Malone, its options are limited for next season.
The Jazz has committed close to $50 million to its core players,
and Utah has had trouble persuading players to relocate to Salt
Lake City (see Derek Harper, Rony Seikaly). "It bothers me
people don't want to be here, because I love this place," Malone
says. "But I'd be lying if I said it wasn't a problem."
Malone insists it's "not impossible" for Utah to contend again
next season. We know better, and so does he. It's time for the
Mailman to dig out those change-of-address forms. C'mon, Larry
Miller, how about forking over the stamp?
HELP IS ON THE WAY
The upset winners of Sunday's NBA draft lottery were the Nets
and the Grizzlies. They finished with the seventh- and
fourth-worst records in the league, respectively, but came away
with the first and second picks in the June 28 draft. Both teams
can use all the help they can get.
After learning that he had this year's top choice, Nets general
manager John Nash leafed through his appointment book with
renewed purpose. "We had appointments with Mo Peterson, DerMarr
Johnson and Courtney Alexander already scheduled," Nash said.
"We'd made no contact with Kenyon Martin at all."
That's bound to change. The usually hopeless Nets will now take
great pleasure in meeting and studying the most treasured
college and high school stars on the market. Among the players
suddenly on their list is Martin, the 6'9" power forward who
played for four years at Cincinnati. "I'm pretty sure that's the
direction they're going," said Vancouver's new team president,
Dick Versace, suggesting that Martin is the most likely
candidate to fill New Jersey's gaping needs inside, leaving such
high-profile stars as Marcus Fizer, Stromile Swift and Chris
Mihm for the Grizzlies to choose from.
Vancouver needed a dose of good news even more than the Nets
did. The Grizzlies have had a tough year since expending the No.
2 pick last season on Steve Francis, who immediately demanded a
trade and went on to be the NBA's co-Rookie of the Year for the
Rockets. Meanwhile, as new owner Michael Heisley undertook his
purchase of the team, he brought in Versace and a team of scouts
to rate prospects for the Grizzlies--clearly undermining
lame-duck president Stu Jackson, who recently quit to take a job
at NBA headquarters. "There was a 2 1/2-month period when Michael
was waiting to close on the deal," Versace said. "We went
scouting on his nickel, and because of that we have a good sense
of what's out there."
Added Versace, "The strength of this team is its youth. In four
years [star forward] Shareef Abdur-Rahim is still going to be
just 27 years old." That may be another way of saying that
Vancouver is desperate for veteran leadership, but Versace
doubts he will trade the pick. "We won 22 games last year,"
Versace said. "Is a veteran going to get us to 40 or 42?" Most
likely Vancouver will gamble on a player with a big
upside--Swift, a 6'9" leaper from LSU, for example. "At Number
2, we might look for the guy who can be a star," Versace said,
"because stars win games in this league." --Ian Thomsen
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