Though this wasn’t quite Kobe waving off Karl Malone’s pick in the ’98 All-Star Game….well, actually, it’s worse. From the Associated Press :

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 Tuesday.

“Karl is furious,” agent Dwight Manley said. “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.”

Bryant’s 10-8 Lakers, currently tied for the 8th playoff spot in the West with the Nuggets take on the Suns tomorrow night. Phoenix, with the league’s 3rd best records at 14-3, are currently in a dogfight with the surprisingly tough Warriors, Golden State leading by a narrow margin midway through the 4th quarter. Amare Stoudemire (below) is leading the Suns with 23 points.