TOM ENLUND; Delivering the Mailman; O’Neal would love to help bring


Delivering the Mailman

O’Neal would love to help bring Malone to Miami

In the wake of Kobe Bryant’s foot-in-mouth comments last week, we now know where free-agent, future Hall of Famer Karl Malone will not be playing this season.

But where will Malone play should he decide, probably in the next couple weeks, that he has some basketball left in his 41-year-old bones?

When the Milwaukee Bucks played the Lakers at the Staples Center on Nov. 23, Malone was seated courtside and the word then was if he was going to play with anyone, it would be the Lakers. That, though, has all changed now as Miami and San Antonio appear to be the front- runners for Malone’s services.

Malone ruled out returning to the Lakers last week after Bryant enraged him by saying, among other things, that it wasn’t fair for the Lakers to be sitting around wondering how long it’s going to take Malone to decide on his future. Caught in the midst of yet another firestorm, Bryant later apologized.

A Malone-Shaquille O’Neal reunion in Miami seems very possible.

And while O’Neal is keeping a low profile on the subject, don’t you just know that he would love to lure Malone away from Bryant and the Lakers? O’Neal helped recruit Malone to the Lakers last season for their ill-fated run at the championship, but before last week’s game against the Bucks at the Bradley Center, O’Neal said he would leave the Malone affair up to Heat President Pat Riley.

“That’s not my decision,” said O’Neal. “Pat Riley is in 5,000% control. So, we’ll just have to sit back and see. I’m sure if Karl is interested, then maybe Mr. Riley would be interested and I could do my part with the general managerial skills I possess.”

O’Neal admits that he’s had contact with Malone.

“Whenever we talk, it’s never about basketball,” said O’Neal. “It’s never about coming back. Karl is a great guy and I know he went through a tough (knee) injury last year.”

O’Neal added that he was not concerned with Bryant’s comments.

Miami general manager Randy Pfund told the South Florida Sun- Sentinel that, “We’ve had interest from the start and we continue to have interest.”

Even though playing alongside O’Neal and Dwyane Wade would offer some tempting possibilities for Malone, his best chance to get the championship ring that has long eluded him might be in San Antonio.

Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said last week in San Antonio that he didn’t even want to speculate on whether the addition of Malone would disrupt the chemistry of a team that has been one of the best in the league all season.

“I don’t speculate on what-ifs,” he said.

Do not, however, take that to mean the Spurs do not have an interest in the Mailman.

“We were interested in Karl last year,” said Popovich. “We were interested in him this summer. We’ve always been interested in Karl.”

Malone spoke about his relationship with the Lakers with reporters at his ranch in Arkansas last week.

“I look at the whole scenario and the whole thing could have been done differently by everybody,” he said. “I don’t want to throw daggers at anyone but I would have quit my job before I traded Shaquille O’Neal.”

James is banned

Yao Ming said in Houston last week that he knew as soon as he saw the commercial in which Cleveland’s LeBron James is battling kung-fu fighters that it would cause problems in China. Yao, who himself did not seem offended by the ad, said, “I think it’s a cultural problem. There’s some things in that commercial that Chinese people do not like to see: the dragons, women’s pictures. That’s all I know.”

Asked if he agreed with the ban, Yao said, “Not all, but a little bit.”

He’s the Buddha

Sacramento assistant Pete Carril, who has been called the Buddha of Basketball, told the Sacramento Bee that he came “pretty close, pretty close” to joining Doc Rivers’ staff in Boston over the summer but decided to stay on with the Kings due to his loyalty to president of basketball operations Geoff Petrie.

Carril, a Hall of Famer, pondered the Boston job because he is an East Coast guy, having coached at Princeton before joining the Kings.

“I had a funny feeling,” said Carril, referring to the Boston job. “When (Rivers) was a broadcaster, I talked to him all the time. He always said, I like the way you guys play.’ I thought that there’s something fishy here.”

Pass the gravy

Several players already this season have found that it can be a gravy train playing against the Utah defense.

It all started Nov. 16, when Charlotte’s Keith Bogans scored a career-high 28 points in Utah’s victory against the Bobcats. The next game, Orlando’s Steve Francis (33 points) and Grant Hill (32) scored season highs against Utah, and Miami’s Wade followed with a season- high 39 in the next game. Since then, the Jazz has given up season highs to New Orleans’ Jamaal Magloire (20), Chicago’s Ben Gordon (22) and Eddy Curry (21), San Antonio’s Malik Rose (16), Seattle’s Ray Allen (38) and Miami’s Damon Jones (21).

Nursing a hangover

Raptors coach Sam Mitchell issued a warning in Toronto that while Detroit may be struggling a little bit early on, watch out for the Pistons as the season wears on.

“I think it’s just the players right now are still having a little hangover from the championship,” said Mitchell. “Probably guys are not as hungry early, which was to be expected, but I think as you get closer to the all-star break and after the all-star break, watch out. With good teams, that’s when they start getting ready for the playoffs and they take it up a notch.”

Pay the phone bill

Nets President Rod Thorn said in New Jersey that now that Jason Kidd is playing, he anticipated his phone would be ringing off the hook from teams looking to swing a trade for Kidd. Thorn, though, says the Nets intend to keep their all-star point guard.

“I expect to get calls,” said Thorn. “When Jason’s on two good legs, he’s a devastating player. So I’m sure there will be a lot of interest. But our intentions are to keep him. I can’t put it more clearly than that.”

Feel the love

The Los Angeles Times reported that Lakers owner Jerry Buss, in an effort to mend fences with O’Neal, offered Shaq the use of Buss’ Staples Center suite for the Heat’s game against the Clippers on Jan. 14. Also, O’Neal was offered the opportunity to purchase 40 tickets for the Heat’s game on Christmas Day against the Lakers at the Staples Center.

A Lakers spokesman called those the most scarce regular-season tickets in team history. O’Neal accepted both offers, but he didn’t exactly sound as if he had warm and fuzzy feelings toward the Lakers.

“There is no ice to be broken,” he said. “Because when it got cold in L.A., I moved to the warm, tropical climate of Miami.”

Dwyane’s world

O’Neal said he was proud to be invited to last week’s ceremony honoring Wade before Marquette University’s game against South Dakota State at the Bradley Center.

“I think the league should look at guys like him, instead of these guys that they try to promote,” said O’Neal. “I’m a fan of his, a friend of his.”

Miller time

Pacers insiders say they are not surprised Reggie Miller is playing so well after coming back from a hand injury.

While still on the injured list, Miller would work out for an hour after practice, playing against Jeff Foster and Anthony Johnson. They would play a rotating one-on-one game with defenders changing after each basket and the offensive player changing after a miss. Miller also went through some rapid-fire shooting drills.

In his first two games back, Miller made 19 of 30 shots, including 8 of 13 from three-point range.

A tough guy

Former Bucks center Brian Skinner took the 76ers’ backup center job away from Samuel Dalembert during Philadelphia’s recent 0-5 trip. Coach Jim O’Brien told reporters in Philadelphia that he was impressed with Skinner’s mental toughness.

“Brian has earned the playing time over Sammy,” said O’Brien. “Brian, we signed to a long-term contract because he can play. He has played well when he’s in there and our production is not as high with Sammy in the lineup as it had been earlier in the season.”

Fast breaks

Golden State special assistant Mitch Richmond was in Chicago last week scouting Curry. . . .

Sign held up by a fan at a Pacers’ game against the Clippers in Los Angeles: “Don’t Artest Us”. . . .

The Lakers plan nothing more than a possible video tribute to O’Neal at the Christmas Day game, but they are expected to retire his number at some point. . . .

Charlotte guard Brevin Knight, who played with the Bucks last season, ranks second in the league to Steve Nash in assists. . . .

Utah’s six-game losing streak matched the longest losing streak of the entire John Stockton-Karl Malone era. . . .

Minnesota general manager Jim Stack was to visit with terminally ill children Saturday at a Chicago hospital as part of his sentence for a misdemeanor assault conviction over the summer. . . .

Seattle’s 17-3 start was its best since 1993-’94, when it started 18-2 and finished 63-19. . . .

Scott Williams, activated by the Cavaliers last week, and Milwaukee’s Toni Kukoc are the only members of the Bulls’ championship teams that are still on rosters.

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Copyright 2004 Journal Sentinel Inc. Note: This notice does not

apply to those news items already copyrighted and received through

wire services or other media

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