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Agent Signals Lakers That the Glove May Fit

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Old July 8th 03, 05:39 AM
Prefect, Ford
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Default Agent Signals Lakers That the Glove May Fit

Agent Signals Your Mouth May Fit


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Agent Signals Lakers That the Glove May Fit

By Tim Brown, Times Staff Writer

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

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.

It is believed Payton would prefer to reach a contract decision quickly,
whether it is with the Lakers or another team. Milwaukee Buck officials
continue to maintain they would seek to retain Payton, even amid rumors
the team would be stripped down to be sold. They might seek a sign-and-
trade deal to receive some compensation for Payton, though Payton would
have to approve it. The Lakers conceivably could pile in a handful of
players to reach an acceptable salary for Payton.

Meantime, Laker management is not only ecstatic over Malone's decision
to forgo a larger contract to make room for Payton, but pleased Malone
appears to have chosen the Lakers over other interested organizations,
such as San Antonio. In a gesture reminiscent of superstar Andre
Dawson's blank-check signing with the Chicago Cubs 16 years ago, Malone
has told the Lakers he would play for whatever fit their budget,
assuming it facilitates the signing of Payton.

One by one, Kupchak, Jackson and Buss, along with the team's handful of
consultants, are thought to have signed off on the acquisition of
Malone. If he signs and then stays at least two seasons, Malone could
pass Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and become the NBA's all-time scoring leader as
a member of the Lakers.

While Laker officials believed the team needed to add a formidable power
forward to return to its championship stature and believed Malone fit
that requirement, it was Payton and an upgrade in the backcourt that was
the summer's first priority.

Payton is rangy and savvy, a dynamic offensive player whose nickname,
"The Glove," refers to his defensive skill. In a season in which their
run of championships ended, the Lakers finished in the bottom half of
the league in points allowed, field-goal percentage allowed and three-
point percentage allowed.

Even as power forwards Malone, Juwan Howard and P.J. Brown became
available through free agency, and in spite of their recent soft legacy
at power forward, it was Payton who drew the Lakers' attention, and
Payton who would allow them to finish their summer business early.


Rick Fox expects to have his hard cast removed Tuesday in New York, then
have his surgically repaired foot placed in a walking boot for six to 10
weeks. He said Friday he believed he would start a more aggressive
rehabilitation program then The Lakers hope to sign their first-round
pick, Brian Cook, shortly. By the NBA's guidelines, Cook's three-year,
guaranteed deal will be worth about $2.4 million. The contract also will
have a fourth-year option for $1.5 million The Lakers begin summer-
league workouts today, with two practices under Coach Kurt Rambis. They
play the Canadian national team Sunday in Long Beach.


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