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Evilmav2
06-30-2003, 06:53 AM
Jazz: Clock ticking for Mailman

By Phil Miller
The Salt Lake Tribune

July, not January, arrives when the clock strikes midnight in New York tonight, so there's no Times Square countdown to mark the occasion. But Karl Malone plans to celebrate just the same.
"I'll probably lower my guard and have me a big ol' stogie," Malone said in a KSL-TV interview last week. "We'll see what happens at 12:01."
What will probably happen at that hour -- actually, 10:01 p.m. MDT tonight, since the NBA runs on Eastern time -- is the phone will ring in an office in Southern California. Perhaps more than once.
And on the other end of at least one of those calls to Dwight Manley, Malone's agent, will be Kevin O'Connor, the Jazz's vice president of basketball operations.
"Absolutely. We're going to make contact just as soon as we're allowed to," O'Connor said. "Actually, I'll probably find out if Dwight wants to talk that late or wait until [Tuesday] morning, but we'll do whatever we have to [do] to make it clear that we want to get together just as soon as possible."
The witching-hour contact is entirely symbolic, since no NBA free agent can actually sign a contract until July 16. But considering what the Jazz are asking of the franchise's greatest scorer -- to take a huge pay cut and give up his
championship ambitions in order to retire as a Jazzman -- symbols could be important.
After all the back-and-forth rancor between Malone and Jazz owner Larry Miller this month, it can't hurt to let the 18-year veteran know he's still wanted, albeit on a significantly altered team.
But what both sides really want is some answers. Malone needs to hear what O'Connor and Miller expect Utah to look like next fall. And the Jazz front office finally wants to know what the entire state has wondered for months: Are you leaving?
"I'll contact Dwight and say, 'When can we meet? We urgently want to sit down as soon as possible.' We want to explain to Karl what we're trying to do, how we're trying to do it, what Coach [Jerry Sloan] is trying to do, and get a feel from him about his plans," O'Connor said. "We know each other, obviously. But there are some things that need to be said, some things that need to be heard, by both sides."
The need to know is especially urgent on the Jazz's part because Malone's plans could impact the team's pursuit of free agents. It certainly would affect their need to acquire a power forward, but if Malone were to remain in limbo for long, he would cause the Jazz salary-cap heartburn, too.
Under the rules, Malone's $19.25 million salary remains on the Jazz's roster -- and actually counts 150 percent, or $28.9 million -- until he signs a new contract or the Jazz renounce his rights. So despite their projected $16-19 million in salary-cap space, O'Connor can sign no free agent until Malone's status is resolved.
Fortunately for the team, Manley said his star client is in no big hurry -- but he doesn't intend to drag out the decision-making process, either. "I don't have any timeline, but I don't expect this to be a long process," said Manley, who cancelled his family's traditional Hawaiian summer vacation to handle Malone's free-agency. "This won't drag into training camp or anything like that."
Since the Jazz don't intend to exceed the league's salary cap even if Malone stays, they could always renounce his rights and still sign him later for whatever they have left -- and Miller has said it will be less than one-third of what Malone was paid last year. But the symbolism of that move -- legally severing all ties with the two-time MVP -- would certainly infect what has already been an emotional process anyway.
Not that the Malone negotiations are going to be about salary, anyway. O'Connor doesn't even intend to bring up the subject until the sides are comfortable with each other's plans.
"As it progresses, sure, we're going to look at numbers and say, 'Here's what we think [about salary], here's what we don't think,' " O'Connor said. "But as far as walking in and saying 'Here's what we're offering, here's what we'll give you' -- that's not what this is about."
Malone's agent agrees with that. "Money is only one factor of many," Manley said. "We can't weigh the various offers without numbers, but Karl has said many times what is most important to him."
And when the clock strikes midnight tonight, everyone will begin to find out.

Mandyahl
06-30-2003, 12:47 PM
all the drama...