Even with all signs now pointing toward free agent Karl Malone's imminent departure from Utah, the Mailman's agent on Monday night adamantly maintained his client still has not decided where he plans to play next season.

"Karl has not made any commitments at this time," California-based agent Dwight Manley said. "He hasn't made up his mind."

Manley refused to discuss scenarios involving specific teams, including the widely reported possibility that Malone, the NBA's No. 2 all-time scorer after his 18 seasons with the Jazz, will join the Los Angeles Lakers.

The agent did, however, suggest Malone might be ready to make his intentions known sometime soon.

NBA teams are not permitted to sign free agents to contracts until July 16, but nonbinding oral commitments may be made now.

"Things seem to be coming together pretty well," Manley said, "and in the not-too-distant future we should be able to have everything in position for Karl to make an informed decision."

It seems increasingly unlikely that decision will involve a return to Utah, where Malone has played his entire professional career to date, helping lead the Jazz to both the 1997 and '98 NBA Finals.

Malone and Jazz owner Larry H. Miller still have not sat face-to-face for a private heart-to-heart discussion since Utah's season ended in late April.

And while there is some degree of ongoing communication between the two camps, the Jazz, it is believed, still have not even made a firm contract proposal to the two-time former NBA MVP.

Though senior vice president of basketball operations Kevin O'Connor has been tight-lipped since the league's free-agent negotiating period opened last Tuesday, it is thought the Jazz have been focusing their efforts on recruiting other prospective free-agent signees.

That list includes Los Angeles Clippers restricted free-agent point guard Andre Miller, who is expected to visit with Jazz officials in Salt Lake on Wednesday.

The Lakers, meanwhile, seem anxious to lure Malone, with San Antonio apparently still very much in the picture and Dallas another potential destination.

Much has been made of Malone's desire to play for the Lakers should Los Angeles also be able to sign veteran free agent Gary Payton — including one scenario in which Malone agrees to play for $1.5 million so Payton can get all of L.A.'s approximately $4.7 million in so-called "mid-level exception" money.

If Payton doesn't land with the Lakers, Malone might be willing to go to L.A. anyway.

Before that were to happen, though, he probably would weigh other options.

That includes the possibility of helping replace retired David Robinson of the defending NBA-champion Spurs, especially if San Antonio spends the bulk of its available spending money on New Jersey Nets point guard Jason Kidd.

Once Payton makes his decision and the Spurs discover who their primary signee will be — San Antonio also is courting Indiana big man Jermaine O'Neal, among others — Malone should be ready to declare his intentions.

Until then, he and his agent will continue to shift through their various options.

"We're moving forward with reviewing situations," Manley said, "and trying to clarify different parts of different proposals."


E-MAIL: tbuckley@desnews.com