Wait a Minute, Mr. Mailman!

A public plea for Karl Malone to once again consider joining the Celtics.


Here is a public plea to the Mailman to once again consider the Boston Celtics. GM Danny Ainge was reportedly the first person on Malone's doorstep a year ago when he was one of the world's most coveted free agents but the cold weather, the long distance from his family, and the inability to wear his favorite number because it was retired, all led to him making the famous choice to hang on to Shaq and Kobe's coattails, along with fellow cheaply signed free agent Gary Payton, to take the Lakers to the promised land on the back of perhaps the most talent on paper than had been seen in a very long time. We all know how that worked out.

The latest news on the Karl Malone situation is he feels as disrespected by the Laker organization as Gary Payton did when they traded him to Boston. Recent comments by Kobe Bryant that it somehow wouldn't be fair to his other teammates if Malone suddenly stepped in and took away their playing time drove Malone to pronounce that the Lakers are no longer his team of choice if he decides to come back, and furthermore, he is quite likely to come back, within the next few weeks. What's even more ironic is that the same newspaper (the Riverside Press-Enterprise) broke the Malone story as the Payton story that later led to a modification of the Lakers-Celtics trade such that Boston was able to keep Marcus Banks.

Frontrunners for his services remain the Spurs, with the Timberwolves, Mavericks, and Heat in hot pursuit. Malone stated that these teams have all contacted him but he declined to say what his preference was.

There are two classes of reasons why Malone should consider the Celtics: one is based on the impact he will have on the team, and the other is based on the impact it will have on himself.

The impact on the team is also important for him personally as well, since if he goes to the Spurs, for example, he would be competing with Tim Duncan for playing time at their shared favorite position of power forward. No one would argue Malone is a better player than Duncan at this point in their careers, so any time he is playing and Duncan is sitting there might be a slight irritation in the back of his head wondering if he is playing because he's the best player for that position at that time or is he taking time away from a better player? That is precisely the reason -- that perception, not even the reality of it, that he might be stealing time from more deserving folk -- that has just driven him away from the Lakers.

Well, the good news is there's no such problem in Boston. Malone could step right in and be an instant starter. However, he would not have to play 48 minutes: there is still plenty of depth -- Raef LaFrentz who's having an unexpectedly good year, Al Jefferson who is growing into his talent, and even Tom Gugliotta when he's healthy. In other words, Malone could sit any time he chooses and there will be a body to go to. Furthermore, any minutes he takes away from LaFrentz is good for LaFrentz's knees; any minutes he takes away from Jefferson is good for Jefferson's growth; and any minutes he takes away from Gugliotta just enhances the length of his career as well.

But why the Celtics and not another team who could use a starter with limited minutes? Because the Celtic offense has two key characteristics that play into Malone's talents: fast breaks and post passing.

Malone has probably finished more fast breaks from a Hall of Fame point guard than anyone else in the past four decades. He's always liked playing with Payton; that was never an issue in LA. Those two old-timers can still run the break better than a lot of these new guys. It doesn't require amazing speed, simply a habit of running. Malone has that.

Furthermore, Malone is an excellent, excellent passer, especially out of the post, and Doc Rivers's system is geared especially for that sort of offense. It's based on the Sacramento/Princeton offense of motion and screens and picks and backdoor cuts, and if it can work with a gimpy Chris Webber still putting up tremendous numbers, it could work for Malone as well. In other words:

Karl Malone could be the Chris Webber of the East.

Where else would he get that kind of opportunity? Playing time. Fast breaks. Post passing. Even throw in a little legacy in being able to tutor their young kids and a little Celtic mystique that every Hall of Famer ought to have. And it would only take him the rest of the season, or about 50 games, to break Kareem's career scoring title if he averages 30 points a game. Or worst case he gets there next year. With the Celtics it's a real possibility, and while that's probably not Malone's direct goal, he should certainly not throw away the Celtics as an option because they can also, in the process, get him personal accolades.

The Celtics unfortunately used a large chunk of their MLE on Gugliotta but they can always figure out a deal, including bonuses on unlikely performances such as averaging a triple-double or 20-10-5 or playoffs or whatever else the league allows to be over and above the salary cap. At this point Malone's not in it for the money anyway.

That's the plea. That, and the fact that the Celtics-Lakers rivalry will reach its old epic proportions when Malone's own epic proportions sign on to the roster. Also, with the C's, Malone could not be accused of riding anyone's coattails: neither Shaq's, nor Kobe's, nor Duncan's, nor KG's, nor Nowitzki's. If anything, Paul Pierce would be riding Malone's coattails, and he'd be happy to do it. Pierce has begged for a low-post banger like him for years.

Could it come true? Malone is playing the cards very close to his chest. Ainge is not even rumored to still be pursuing him, and indeed the Celtics would have to move somebody in order to clear room on the roster for him. But let's end this hypothetical (which is an extension of a very old dream of mine) by comparing the current Celtics stats with Malone's last year and his career averages:

  Minutes Points Rebounds Assists
LaFrentz 28 11.2 8.0 1.1
Jefferson 14 5.8 3.8 0.1
Gugliotta 12 1.5 2.3 0.5
Malone (last year) 33 13.2 8.7 3.9
Malone (career) 37 25.0 10.1 3.6