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.
At 12-6, the Cavaliers have the best record in the NBA's Eastern Conference -- the first time they've had that distinction after 15 games since March 21, 1989, when they were 48-17.
The Nets pulled within 100-97 on Jason Collins' tip with 30.9 seconds to go, but James fed Harris in the right corner and the shooting guard, who spent seven seasons with the Nets before signing with Cleveland as a free agent last summer, drilled his 3.
Mavericks 97, Timberwolves 87
In Minneapolis, Dirk Nowitzki scored 34 points, including 23 in the second half as Dallas snapped Minnesota's five-game winning streak. Josh Howard had 13 points and 12 rebounds for the Mavericks, who overcame the early ejection of coach Don Nelson and outrebounded Minnesota 54-35 to win for the third time in four games.
Rockets 89, Hornets 81
In Houston, Yao Ming scored 21 points and had nine rebounds, and backup point guard Andre Barrett scored 10 of his 14 points in the fourth quarter as Houston downed New Orleans.
Tracy McGrady had his second straight poor shooting night, shooting just 7-of-19 -- including 1-of-8 from 3-point range -- to finish with 18 points.
David Wesley led New Orleans with 18 points.
Suns 118, Warriors 104
In Phoenix, Steve Nash had 11 of his 26 points in the fourth quarter, when Phoenix rallied from seven points down to beat Golden State.
Amare Stoudemire had 33 points and 11 rebounds, Shawn Marion had 23 points and 10 rebounds and Joe Johnson chipped in 20 points as the Suns won for the 12th time in 13 games.
Jason Richardson had a season-high 32 points and 10 rebounds.
Kings 109, Bobcats 92
In Sacramento, California, Peja Stojakovic had season highs of 30 points and 12 rebounds, and Brad Miller had 27 points as Sacramento beat Charlotte for its 12th victory in 13 games.
With Chris Webber sitting out to rest his sore left knee, Darius Songaila matched his career high with 17 points and 11 rebounds in Sacramento's fifth straight win.
Bobby Jackson scored 16 points for the Kings, who took charge early in their first meeting with the expansion Bobcats. Sacramento had a 15-0 run spanning halftime and easily held on for its ninth win in 10 home games this season.
New acquisition Kareem Rush scored 14 points in his debut with the Bobcats, who kept it close despite having just nine players in uniform one night after a double-overtime loss to the Clippers.
Latrell Sprewell was suspended for one game by the NBA on Tuesday for yelling a sexual vulgarity at a female fan during a game.
The Minnesota Timberwolves swingman's comment to a heckler was picked up by a courtside microphone and could be heard on broadcasts of the team's game against the Clippers on Saturday.
Houston was awarded the 2006 NBA All-Star game Tuesday, the second time the city will host the midseason event.
"Houston has distinguished itself as a sports center," commissioner David Stern said.
The city has already hosted the Super Bowl and baseball's All-Star game this year.