Utah Jazz star forward Karl Malone and team owner Larry H. Miller have worked together for years, man-to-man, on contract negotiations. Malone, you see, doesn't have an agent.
Malone, frustrated by the "disrespect" shown him by Miller and others in the Jazz front office, is now feeling some regret for acting on his own behalf.Paging Jerry Maguire.
"It hurt me some," said Malone of not being represented in contract talks. "As bad as it may sound, the people that have the agents seem to be the people who get the (big) contracts."
Malone is in the second to last year of his current pact. He's going to be making good money this season - some $5 million - but he's a bargain by NBA standards. Last year the NBA MVP was the 33rd highest paid player in the league behind the likes of Otis Thorpe, Sean Elliott and Shawn Bradley.
During the off-season additional players hit paydirt like Brian Grant (seven years, $63 million), Brian Williams (seven years, $45 million) and Robert Horry (seven years, $35 million). Then there are the players who are entering their third seasons who signed extensions and will make huge money beginning next season: Kevin Garnett (six years, $125 million), Rasheed Wallace (six years, $80 million), Bryant Reeves (six years, $65 million) and Utah's own Greg Ostertag (six years, $39 million). Even a couple of coaches - like Phil Jackson (one year, $6 million) - will out-earn the Mailman.
By league rules, the Jazz could not renegotiate Malone's deal this season because it has been fewer than three years since he signed his current deal. Since the Jazz are above the salary cap now, Malone could only have gotten a 20 percent raise even if they had been able to renegotiate.
So the present contract will have to do.
Malone said what makes him upset is that Jazz officials haven't even talked to him about his contract. He also said, when his current deal is up, he may try to hook on with another team.
"I've got one more year (after the current one) left on my contract, and I want to play two more (after that)," he said. "(The Jazz) haven't even acknowledged it. It's kind of like, `Hey, just play your contract out and we'll see how you are doing at that time.' "
"I've always had to be the horse's (rear end) and they come away smelling like a rose. That's not the way it should be. I shouldn't have to go through that after 12 years. I've given my heart and soul as a Jazz player. (This is) where I want to finish my career, but who knows?"
Malone, his wife, Kay, and their family have built a new "dream home" in Salt Lake City.
"We will always, always live in Utah," he said. "Obviously we made a big commitment when we built our home there. We want to stay there. But who knows what will happen? And I'm not just blowing smoke."
Malone, 34, said his mother relayed to him a quote attributed to Miller from a Louisiana newspaper that said the Mailman had "lost a step."
"When I start hearing that people in our mix say that I've lost a step and that they are looking out for the best of the team (in signing young players) and all that, it shows they have given up hope and are looking in another direction . . . But I thought when a man was losing a step, his minutes went down, they didn't go up."
Jazz vice president Scott Layden said it wasn't his place to comment to the media about Malone's feelings.
While Malone says he's been disrespected by the Jazz brass, he made a point to say that he likes his teammates and his frustration will not spill over onto the basketball court.
"One thing I am not going to do is embarrass Karl Malone or his family and friends," he said. "When I step out on that hardwood, I'm going to give it all I've got.
"My main objective right now is to get into game shape," he continued. "I came back in great shape - the best I ever had. I've had my best camp I've ever had - but I'm losing a step." The last phrase was said with more than a little sarcasm.
Malone said he's gone hunting, visited friends and family and taken rides on his Harley Davidson motorcycle during training camp to keep his mind off his frustration.
"When I'm not playing the game of basketball - to keep my sanity - I need to get totally away from it," he said. "That's what I've been able to do to some degree."
"I'm (ticked) off," he said. "But I'm looking forward to the season starting."
JAZZ NOTES: The Jazz practiced Wednesday morning and were to break camp and fly home to Salt Lake City Wednesday afternoon. The exhibition opener will be Saturday in the Delta Center against the Charlotte Hornets . . . John Stockton, who has had a sore left knee, practiced more Tuesday than he had since Saturday. But his backcourt mate, Jeff Hornacek, didn't scrimmage Tuesday night because - you guessed it - he has a sore left knee . . . Center/forward Antoine Carr sat out most of the drills Tuesday due to a sore hamstring . . . The roster is still at 17, but cuts could come any day now. Twelve players will be on the regular season opening day roster. There are already 12 players with guaranteed contracts - 11 who were on the team last year and first round draft pick Jacque Vaughn.