Always coming up with surprises, Karl Malone delivered the latest Monday: He'll play only five more seasons.
In an interview before the Jazz's loss to Philadelphia, the Mailman said he'll work with team owner Larry Miller this summer on a contract restructuring that will limit him to five more seasons in the NBA."I don't want to play forever," said Malone, who's in his fifth pro season. "I love the game and I want to leave, loving the game. I don't want to leave on a negative note."
Malone's plan calls for him to leave the NBA after the 1994-95 season, shortly before his 32nd birthday.
The 10-year, $18 million contract Malone signed in November 1988 will still have eight years and about $15.2 million left after this season. The reworked contract could pay Malone roughly the same amount, over five years.
Miller is aware of Malone's career plans, following talks last summer when Malone was interested in a new contract. Miller convinced Malone to play this season for his scheduled $1.45 million, but knows he'll have to give raises to Malone, John Stockton and possibly others next season to meet NBA standards.
Increased revenues from a new network television contract and other sources are expected to raise each NBA team's salary cap from $9.8 million to about $12 million. The minimum team payroll will likely go from $7.9 million to upwards of $9 million, forcing contract adjustments.
Malone claims he would not use the shortened contract in order to become an unrestricted free agent sooner, allowing him to sign with any team. His chief concern, aside from making money faster, is to make sure he leaves basketball at the top of his game.
"While I'm playing, I'm going to give it everything I've got," Malone said. "I'm going to show no sign of going through the motions."
Asked what reaction he expects in the wake of his decision, Malone noted, "I'm sure people are going to find this very surprising, but that's what I want to do, and I feel they'll respect my decision."
Coach Jerry Sloan, for one, understands Malone's thinking. "This is a tough business," he said. "There's a possibility you can burn out. A lot of people have their sights on where they want to go with their lives. Obviously, you'd like to be selfish and keep him as long as you can, but we care about these guys."