Malone will go - perhaps to another team in a trade or, more likely, by being waived - so that the Sixers can avoid paying him the $500,000 in back-end money that his contract requires should they keep him after Jan. 14.
``I've already talked with my agent about it,'' Malone said in Denver on Saturday, before another Sixers loss. ``I feel like I still have something left. I'm not ready to quit. Not this way. I might even think about going to Europe for a year.''
The future of Malone, a 34-year-old guard, is but one of the questions the Sixers have to address early in this new year, which brings with it the hangover of a 5-21 record from the old one. Already, 20 players - a franchise high - have worn Sixers uniforms this season, and more new bodies are certainly on the way.
On the way out, along with Malone, might be forward Richard Dumas, who has yet to show the talent the Sixers hoped to see when they signed him to a free-agent contract before the season, and forward Derrick Alston, who has been a $350,000 no-show.
Lucas admits to not understanding Dumas' lethargy. After twice violating the NBA's antidrug policy while playing for Phoenix, Dumas was out of basketball when Lucas signed him. Lucas since has spent time trying to ignite a spark where he has rarely seen one.
``I told Richard this was the last house on the block,'' Lucas said. ``I told him, `Richard, if you can't play for me, you can't play for anybody.' ''
The Sixers are 0-3 on the six-game West Coast trip that will continue tomorrow night against the Los Angeles Lakers. Lucas said before the trip that the way Dumas played on the trip could decide his fate with the team.
Did the message sink in? Who knows? Dumas continues to say he will improve if he is given more playing time. He was a nonfactor in the first two games of the trip. Then, against the Nuggets on Saturday, he played 20 minutes and scored 15 points, again showing a glimpse of talent that intrigues.
``I've tried to remain patient with Richard,'' Lucas said. ``Richard was a guy we counted on heavily to come through for us, and he hasn't come through for us.''
Would Dumas still be a Sixer if his $225,000 salary was not guaranteed? Lucas answers circuitously, saying his decisions are sometimes based on the business considerations that he has to take into account as general manager.
So, as always with this team, the question comes back to Lucas and his performance.
As general manager, Lucas has done a good job of shoring up a team that, if no moves had been made, would undoubtedly be even worse than it is - as hard as that is to imagine.
He has brought in Vernon Maxwell, a solid shooting guard; drafted and signed Jerry Stackhouse, a potential superstar; and enlisted point guard Scott Skiles, who has brought a measure of stability to a backcourt that was out of control.
And in pulling the lever on the Shawn Bradley-for-Derrick Coleman trade, he brought to the team its best player since the departure of Charles Barkley.
When Coleman is on the court, though he is overweight and still rehabilitating a severely sprained ankle, he makes the Sixers undeniably better. Now he is talking about next season in Philadelphia, a place many said he would not want to be after having voiced his desire to play for a winner.
``This season has been a real disappointment, what with not being able to play, with the heart and everything,'' Coleman said, referring to the irregular heartbeat that kept him out of the early season.
``But I'm looking forward to coming back next year and having these same guys. I think we can do some damage. I think we would definitely be a playoff team.''
Who will coach that team?
The answer is Lucas, though there is strong speculation about a shake-up in the ranks of his assistants.
Lucas makes the point that, with the injuries the Sixers have suffered - every starter but Stackhouse has missed at least two games - there has been little coaching to do. The Sixers' bench is laughable by NBA standards, and Lucas often has found himself with few, if any, options.
Coleman notes the team's lack of chemistry - that tough-to-define but necessary ingredient of any winner.
``How do you get it?'' he said. ``By playing together - that's the only way.''
Meanwhile, the Sixers have seen more different lineups in the last three months than the Philadelphia police. But if, in the last half of the season, Coach Lucas gets the healthy team that General Manager Lucas envisions, there will be no more excuses.
``If everybody is healthy - and that's a big if right now - if everybody is healthy, then we should be competitive,'' Lucas said. ``Then we can evaluate me as a coach.''