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Forward could join team later, could retire

LOS ANGELES -- Karl Malone told the Los Angeles Lakers he's not ready to play, but he didn't rule out returning sometime this season or beyond.

"Karl's not playing, but he's also not retiring," Malone's
agent, Dwight Manley, said Friday. "He's leaving his options open.
Nothing's carved in stone.

"He will be 100 percent physically in the next couple months
and his skills are obviously still great. He still could play this
year. Anything's possible -- the door is still open."

The 41-year-old Malone, the second-leading scorer in NBA
history, underwent arthroscopic surgery on his right knee in late
June. Malone opted out of his $1.65 million contract with the
Lakers at season's end, making him a free agent. Several teams,
including San Antonio, Minnesota and Miami, expressed interest.

Malone and Manley had lunch with Lakers owner Jerry Buss on Thursday to let him know Malone wouldn't be at training camp, but that he wouldn't sign with another team, either. Buss offered
Malone an unspecified job with the Lakers, Manley said.

The Lakers open camp Tuesday at the University of San Diego. Their first preseason game is Oct. 12 against Seattle in Anaheim, and they open the regular season Nov. 2 at home against Denver.

Manley said if Malone does return to play in the NBA, it will
only be with the Lakers. "He doesn't want to move his family,"
the agent said.

After playing 18 seasons for the Utah Jazz, Malone joined the
Lakers before last season in search of his first championship. He
took a pay cut of about $18 million to sign for $1.5 million.

Lakers spokesman John Black said last week it was his
understanding that Malone was at least a couple of months away from
being ready to play.

Regarding Buss' offer of another position within the
organization, Black said: "I think he was flattered and is
inclined to accept, but nothing has been decided."

Malone played in 1,434 of a possible 1,444 regular-season games with the Jazz, but missed 40 games with the Lakers -- 39 after
tearing a knee ligament Dec. 21 against Phoenix.

He returned in March, and played a key role as the Lakers
reached the NBA Finals before losing to the Detroit Pistons in five
games.

Malone reinjured his knee in Game 2 of the finals, was limited in Games 3 and 4 and didn't play in Game 5. The Lakers lost the last three games.

Malone played in 193 straight playoff games with the Jazz and
Lakers before having to sit out the last game of the finals.

Considered one of the best power forwards in NBA history, Malone averaged a career-low 13.2 points and 8.7 rebounds in 42 games last season, leaving him with career averages of 25.0 points and 10.1 rebounds.

His 36,928 points in 1,476 games trails only Kareem
Abdul-Jabbar, who finished his career with 38,387 points in 1,560
games.

Malone grew close with Shaquille O'Neal and Kobe Bryant during his only season with the Lakers.

O'Neal was traded in July to the Miami Heat for Lamar Odom, Brian Grant and Caron Butler. Bryant opted out of his contract to become a free agent before signing a seven-year, $136.4 million contract with the Lakers.