July 9, 2003
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The ground is trembling under the NBA and when it stops, the league may be looking at a colossus mightier than any it has ever seen. And it might not be in San Antonio.
Gary Payton, the finest defensive point guard of his time and a career 18-point-a-game scorer, said Tuesday that he will sign with the Lakers. Karl Malone, arguably the greatest power forward of all time, is deciding whether to make it an even four superstars in the Laker lineup â€” with Shaquille O'Neal and Kobe Bryant, who were previously known as the greatest two-man tandem ever.
From the moment Malone and the Lakers started talking, busting them up became a priority throughout the NBA.
The Spurs, who have $14 million of salary cap space with David Robinson leaving, had spent the season privately debating whom to go after â€” Kidd, Jermaine O'Neal and Michael Olowokandi were the prime candidates at one time or another â€” but didn't spend much time on Malone.
However, with valentines coming out of the Malone-Laker meeting last week, the Spurs got interested in a hurry.
Coach Gregg Popovich, who runs their basketball operation, called Malone personally and offered all the money he would have left â€” about $4 million a year, assuming he signed Kidd â€” which might be more than twice what Malone would get from the Lakers.
Then the Sacramento Kings, after what may have been a dour Fourth of July of their own, jumped in this week at the 11th hour, trying to head off Malone with a sign-and-trade deal that would give him a huge contract and send the Jazz some players.
There's also an unidentified East team that is said to be still in the game. This may be the Boston Celtics, whose general manager, Danny Ainge, flew to Salt Lake City to make a personal pitch on the first day, or the Miami Heat, whose coach, Pat Riley, has $9 million to $11 million and wants someone who can get his team back into contention immediately.
Courtesy of Mark Heisler and the LA TIMES.