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Tuesday, July 15
Updated: July 21, 3:10 PM ET
Payton, Malone officially sign on dotted line

Associated Press

LOS ANGELES -- True to their word, future Hall of Famers Karl Malone and Gary Payton signed contracts with the Los Angeles Lakers. And they did so at just about the earliest possible moment.

Team spokesman John Black said Malone and Payton, who verbally committed to join the Lakers at discount prices last week, signed shortly after midnight ET on Wednesday.

A moratorium on free agent signings expired Tuesday night. Beginning at 12:01 a.m., free agents were allowed to sign contracts.

Malone, the second-leading scorer in NBA history who is considered perhaps the greatest power forward ever, signed a two-year contract worth just over $3 million, Black said.

Malone, who earned $19 million last season in his 18th and final season with the Utah Jazz, will earn the veteran's exception of $1.5 million next season.

He turns 40 later this month.

Payton, five years younger, also signed a multi-year contract. He established himself as one of the NBA's finest point guards in Seattle, where he played for nearly 12 seasons before being traded to Milwaukee this past season.

The players will be introduced Thursday morning at a news conference at Staples Center.

Payton, who earned $12 million last season, will make $4.9 million in his first year with the Lakers.

Black and Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak had dinner at a West Los Angeles restaurant Tuesday night with Payton and his agent, Aaron Goodwin, and Malone's agent, Dwight Manley.

Lakers front office employees Ronnie Lester and Bill Bertka were also present.

Malone faxed in his contract from Arkansas shortly after it was allowed to be signed.

"We drank a toast and Mitch went home to get some sleep for probably the first time in at least a week,'' Black said.

Malone and Payton will join Shaquille O'Neal and Kobe Bryant in a star-studded Lakers lineup.

Other Los Angeles returnees next season are Derek Fisher, Devean George, Rick Fox, Slava Medvedenko, Kareem Rush and Jannero Pargo.

The Lakers won three straight NBA championships before being eliminated in six games in the Western Conference semifinals by the eventual champion San Antonio Spurs two months ago.

Kupchak made it clear in the aftermath that major changes were in store.

Neither Malone nor Payton have played on a championship team. Payton and the Sonics played in the NBA Finals once and the Jazz reached the Finals twice during Malone's time there -- all during the 1990s.

In all three cases, the Michael Jordan-led Chicago Bulls won titles.

"When Karl said what he was going to do, I figured I couldn't miss that chance, playing with the Lakers,'' Payton said over the weekend in Miami. "With four great players like us playing with each other, we're going to have a great chance to win a championship.''

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