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Return to sender: The Mailman isn't happy
by Robbie McKay / June 15, 2002

A close examination of Karl Malone’s career reveals a model of consistency. A career earmarked by Ironman-like numbers. The Mailman retains the celebrated status of second leading scorer in NBA history. Karl ranks 9th in all-time games played. He’s a two-time league MVP. And—like every offseason before—Malone’s predictably voicing his opinions regarding his future as a Jazz-man.

Unlike offseasons past, Jazz owner Larry Miller isn’t taking it lightly. His team’s on the verge of some major personnel changes, and Malone’s probable desire for a beefy contract extension doesn’t fall in line with a franchise desperately needing to clear some cap space if they’re to have any chance of landing a big-name free agent.

As Miller told Salt Lake’s KSTU-TV Ch. 13, “I don’t know if Karl can play a year after next year… I don’t know if he can’t… Personally, I think it’s too soon to talk to him about an extension…We need to see what Karl does next year.” Clearly, a sign that Miller is unsure of Karl’s economic value beyond next season, and if it warrants an extension that would hinder the team’s ability to sign any upper-echelon free agents.

Malone—unsurprisingly soured by Miller’s public comments—responded by saying, “they might tell me how long I’m gonna play here, but they ain’t gonna tell me how long I’m gonna play.” Karl’s dissatisfaction with Miller’s comments was reiterated in a report by the Salt Lake Tribune where Malone stated, “I was disappointed that he (Miller) would say that in the media. If you’re going to say something like that, tell it to me, don’t go to the media.”

The public squabble has added fuel to the rumors that the Mailman’s deliveries in Utah may be numbered. Speculation around the league has led to talk of trade scenarios involving the Nets and Keith Van Horn. Or, the possibility of simply letting Karl’s contract expire to clear room under the cap for a younger star like Andre Miller—a University of Utah standout and natural fit for the Jazz. Rumors aside, this offseason’s verbal sparring seems to foreshadow an imminent break-up between the Jazz and the NBA’s most accomplished power forward.

Malone has always shared his opinions towards the Jazz with the media during the summer months. Whether it’s veiled demands for a trade, or his displeasure with the team’s lack of offseason moves, Karl has always had something to say. But one factor has changed, and that’s Miller’s message that what’s best for the Jazz will undoubtedly come first. “Karl has made some strong statements, but Karl always seems to feel the need to start a controversy to talk about every summer,” Miller said. “He puts stress on relationships for whatever reason. His teammates feel the tension, the fans do, and I do. I guess I would tell him I’m not the one stirring things up.”

In a perfect “Jazz world”, Karl would willingly take less money for the next two to three seasons, making room for a significant acquisition. He’d be there to share his unparalleled work ethic with the team’s newcomers and continue to deliver solid numbers night in, and night out. The Jazz would improve upon their two seasons of playoff disappointment, and Karl and Larry would realize their mutual dream of having the Mailman retire in a Utah uniform. Unfortunately this isn’t a perfect “Jazz world”, and the likelihood of Karl taking a major pay cut is slim to none. For the organization, its players and their fans, this summer’s unsettling dialogue doesn’t promise any guaranteed deliveries in the Delta Center next season.

Robbie McKay is a regular contributor to HoopsHype.com

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