Karl Malone urged the Los Angeles Lakers to do anything they could to acquire center Vlade Divac, Malone's representative told ESPN.com on Monday, even though Divac's forthcoming signing severely limits what L.A. can pay Malone to play one more season.
Agent Dwight Manley said Malone recently met with Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak and new coach Rudy Tomjanovich in the wake of Shaquille O'Neal's departure to Miami. Malone, according to Manley, advised them to pursue Divac as hard as they could, essentially giving his blessing to the Lakers to take their $4.9 million mid-level exception offer to Malone off the table.
Malone still has not decided if he will play next season after undergoing arthroscopic knee surgery earlier this month. Yet with the Lakers committing the full mid-level exception to Divac, L.A. no longer has the flexibility under league salary-cap rules to offer the 40-year-old more than a marginal raise on the $1.5 million he earned last season.
"When he was told about the opportunity to get Vlade, Karl told them he thought that would be a very good acquisition and he told them to use the mid-level," Manley said. "They called again this weekend and Karl said that they should sign him. Karl could have held them up if he asked them to wait, but he did not want to stand in the way of [a Divac signing]. If he does re-sign with the Lakers, money will not be the primary consideration."
Malone has received feelers from several teams, but the three top contenders are believed to be the Lakers, Miami (because of O'Neal) and San Antonio (a title contender and his wife's hometown). Miami can pay the most of these three at present, but the Lakers have two strong Malone allies -- Kobe Bryant and Gary Payton -- to spearhead recruiting.
Malone initially hinted that a Shaq-and-Kobe split would nudge him closer to retirement, because he holds such fondness for both players. When the summer began, he was also expecting a raise to the $4.9 million level after taking a pay cut of nearly $18 million last summer when he left Utah to join the Lakers.
Yet with Bryant and Payton lobbying Malone to play on, and the Lakers still lacking low-post depth despite adding Divac to the newly acquired Brian Grant, L.A. is increasingly hopeful that Malone can be talked into a comeback, encouraged by his apparent willingness to again play for well below the league's average salary.
"He still hasn't made a decision," Manley cautioned. "Karl's No. 1 focus is deciding he will have the desire to play."