LOS ANGELES — Former Jazz star Karl Malone and Los Angeles Lakers star Kobe Bryant, whom the Jazz plan to pursue should he enter the free-agency market this summer, appear to have developed quite a bond.

According to Malone, he and Bryant "talk a lot," with Malone, Bryant's new teammate in Los Angeles, acting at times as "his sounding board."

Malone's message to Bryant, who will play in tonight's NBA All-Star Game despite the sexual assault charge he faces in Colorado:

"It's not about just playing the game of basketball. Ten years from now, five years from now, what's your legacy? What do you want guys to think about? People are gonna think about certain things that they want to think about, but what's your legacy? What do you want your teammates to think about you?"

Malone, speaking earlier this season, said Bryant is a stronger person than most people realize.

"Absolutely. Absolutely. He's going through a lot, to stay focused and do what he needs to do," Malone said. "But I think this (a basketball court) has been his sanctuary.

"I think early on (last) summer you had a couple of bonehead guys saying that he shouldn't play. This is the guy's livelihood. This is what's keeping him going through some tough times that none of us have a clue (about)," Malone added. "You know, none of us have a clue about it. But I guarantee you: Everybody that's judging, and a lot of them will never admit it, could have been in a position, could have been in some kind of position, that could have been negative — whether it was this (the rape accusation), or something else. So for people to cast judgment, I think, is the wrong thing."

E-mail: tbuckley@desnews.com