Karl Malone has ruled out a return to the Los Angeles Lakers because of comments made by Kobe Bryant in a radio interview, Malone's agent said.
"Karl is furious," agent Dwight Manley said Tuesday. "He felt very disrespected and betrayed after personally being the first to stand up for Kobe over the last year throughout his rape charge and all he went through."
Manley said remarks made by Bryant on Monday, coupled with what the agent called "recent personal attacks made in private," led Malone to his decision.
Asked if Malone might play elsewhere, Manley replied: "This certainly opens up that possibility."
Bryant told XTRA on Monday he didn't believe Malone, who is recovering from knee surgery, would come back to the Lakers, calling it "just intuition."
"It's not really fair to hold it over the guys' heads that are here," Bryant said. ``The guys that we have here are working hard, practicing hard every day. It's kind of tough for them to be looking over their shoulder, wondering if he's going to come back and then everybody is going to disappear.
"They are here giving me 110 percent. It's really not fair for us to sit around and speculate how long this is going to go on. I mean, you can't sit up here and speculate for the remainder of the season whether or not he is going to come back. I mean, that's not fair to the guys that are working here."
Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak said in a statement he hoped Manley's comments did not accurately reflect Malone's feelings about returning to the Lakers.
"If so, it is unfortunate that he would make such a decision based on the reason given," the statement added. "Kobe Bryant's interview ... merely reflected his personal opinion that Karl would probably not return to play this season. Kobe did not at any time state that Karl was not returning, nor was Kobe speaking on behalf of the Lakers management or organization."
Malone, 41, told the Lakers on Oct. 1 he was still recovering from arthroscopic surgery he underwent three months earlier on his right knee and wasn't ready to play. But he didn't rule out returning at some point this season or beyond.
Malone, the second-leading scorer in NBA history, opted out of his US$1.65 million contract following last season, making him a free agent.
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 US$18 million to sign for US$1.5 million.
"Karl sacrificed financially to come to LA, he sacrificed personally," Manley said. "He put his name and reputation on the line, put his arm around Kobe and said he was a good kid, tried to be his friend, told people to give him the benefit of the doubt.
"And now, basically, to get stabbed in the back, that's how he feels. This has ended any possibility of Karl returning to the Lakers in any capacity."
Malone and Bryant live about six blocks apart in Newport Beach.
Manley said his client is fully recovered from knee surgery and 100 percent physically.
"Karl will have something to say, probably in the next month or so, about his future," Manley said.
Malone's 36,928 points in 1,476 games trails only Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, who finished his career with 38,387 points in 1,560 games.
LeBron James scored 27 points and assisted on Lucious Harris' clinching 3-pointer with 6 seconds left Tuesday as the first-place Cleveland Cavaliers won their eighth straight at home, 103-97 over the New Jersey Nets.