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LAKERS VS. DETROIT | LAKER NOTES

Injured Knee Sidelines Malone

June 16, 2004|Tim Brown | Times Staff Writer

AUBURN HILLS, Mich. — Undone finally by the first major injury of his career, believed to be the same knee damage that cost him half of the regular season, Karl Malone sat out Tuesday night's Game 5.

He said Tuesday he would seek the MRI exam he has avoided since Game 2 as soon as today.

His long-term plans -- he'll be 41 in July, the day after Gary Payton turns 36 -- are in limbo.

"It's too early right now to talk about that," he said. "Sometimes, win or lose, you're caught up in the emotion. I want to take my time and think about what I want to do."

Malone would only say, "If I can't be a 100% by training camp ... then I'll make that decision."

Ten minutes before Tuesday's game, Malone limped to the court.

"I apologized to him," trainer Gary Vitti said. "Told him I was out of tricks. I've got one Italian ligament, and he could have it if I could give it to him."

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Todd Musburger, the agent for Coach Phil Jackson, said he did not have a meeting scheduled with owner Jerry Buss.

Although Jackson insisted Tuesday night he'd coach the Lakers or no one, Musburger said, "I don't think he's saying, 'I won't ever be back to the sideline again as a head coach.' "

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A part-owner, vice president and franchise legend who helped recruit Malone and Payton last summer, Magic Johnson's image took a hit in the Laker locker room, where many of the players were insulted and disappointed by his comments to the Detroit media.

Johnson said that Malone's poke at a fan courtside was unbecoming of a Laker and that Payton was unproductive, ridiculing him for a Game 3 airball.

Johnson then told a Detroit radio station: "Detroit fans are the best sports fans in the world. I wish our Laker fans would come here to see how fans react to a team."

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Malone is expected to notify the organization today if he will play next season under his current contract, which he will not. He will decide if he will return to the Lakers later in the summer.

Derek Fisher is expected to opt out of his contract by Friday. Payton, who has until next week to notify the team of his decision, probably will let Mitch Kupchak know by Sunday.

Kobe Bryant, according to a team official, has until June 30 to opt out of his contract.

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