Gary Payton spoke at some length with Phil Jackson on Friday afternoon, continued his near-daily dialogue with Shaquille O'Neal, and perhaps moved closer to joining Karl Malone in Los Angeles with the Lakers.
As a result of Malone's choosing championship possibilities over financial gain, the Lakers are expected to negotiate through the weekend with Payton and his representative, Aaron Goodwin.
"There's definitely a high level of interest," Goodwin said Friday.
Malone returned to his home in Salt Lake City, where he awaits the results of conversations between Payton, Goodwin and Laker General Manager Mitch Kupchak. As Jackson and owner Jerry Buss are out of town, and given his contact with Jackson, Payton has decided not to travel to Los Angeles this weekend, and intended to consult with his family during negotiations.
Payton has given no indication he would accept the mid-level exception as a starting point on a multi-year deal, considered below market value for a player who made $12.6 million last season and is playing as if in the prime of his career. But if the Lakers were to come to an agreement with Payton -- free agents may not sign contracts until July 16 -- he would represent the final piece of what would be the Lakers' most productive off-season since 1996, the summer Jerry West signed O'Neal and traded for Kobe Bryant.
As Payton mulls his future, the Lakers hope his longtime relationships with Magic Johnson and O'Neal will sway his decision. It is believed that Johnson, vacationing in Hawaii, has also spoken to Payton about signing with the Lakers. Jackson was on the road to North Dakota when he reached Payton
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