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Kobe reaches deal to play in Italy. Almost. Team calls it “95 percent.”

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UPDATE #2, 9:56 am: And as fast as it came together, the deal may already be falling apart. Virtus Bologna had requested a special schedule during the 40 days the team was to have Kobe Bryant, but that has been rejected by the Italian league. This may lead to the entire deal to collapse as the team would not have enough games to cover its expenses.

I don’t think this can be emphasized enough: The timing of this news leaking out hours before the owners and players are to meet in a crucial bargaining session in New York is not a coincidence. Kobe is in his own way trying to put pressure on the owners, that said if you don’t think he’ll follow through on a threat like this you haven’t watched him jack up leaning 28-foot threes with the game on the line. Don’t question if he will go through with just about anything.

UPDATE 9:21 am: Bloomberg is reporting that Kobe Bryant will return to Italy to sign the deal on Oct. 5, by then all the kinks will be worked out.

The deal is $3 million or 10 games at the start of the Italian league season. Kobe’s a smart cookie, he’s probably getting a cut of jersey sales and other merchandise.

4:34 am: Kobe Bryant and Italian League team Virtus Bologna have reached a deal for Kobe to play in Italy during the lockout.

Well, almost. There is one little problem — the team still has to find the money to pay him. (Although you would think finding a sponsor to step forward for the most popular player world-wide would not be all that hard.) There also are work visa issues and other details to work out. Anyone who has done a business deal know that until the papers are signed a deal is at risk.

Virtus Bologna has by all accounts reached an economic deal with Kobe Bryant to play for them, something the Associated Press reports.

The sides have settled on a $3 million contract for the opening 40 days of the Italian league season, a person with knowledge of the negotiations told The Associated Press on Friday….

Bryant will get a work visa and return to Italy next week, said the person, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the deal has still not been signed. Virtus had been due to open the season Oct. 9 against Roma, but schedules now need to be reworked after Venezia was added to the league as a 17th team.

However, Virtus Bologna’s owner Claudio Sabatini is notorious for announcing deals that do not come to fruition. Sabatini was speaking in Italy Friday and Sportando has his comments:

“First news is that we have reached an economic agreement with Kobe Bryant” said Sabatini, as reported by Bolognabasket.it. “Second is that I don’t have that amount of money” added joking the owner of the Italian team.

Sabatini also said that there are some details to finalize as the image rights of the player. “Deal is done at 95%” ended Sabatini.

You can bet he is trying to round up a sponsor and finalize the deal, but that is a long way from having Kobe signed on the dotted line. Any deal would be required to have an NBA opt-out so he could return to the Lakers if a labor deal is struck.

The timing of this announcement, hours before the NBA owners and players union are getting together for crucial meetings in New York that could determine if the NBA season starts on time or remains locked out, is not a coincidence.

Kobe is flying back from a European promotional tour and is expected in New York for Friday’s labor meeting, where this signing would be a bombshell. The players union has stressed that its players have other options, but no player as big a name as Kobe has singed. While NBA owners have not blinked at their role players signing overseas, their biggest stars actually playing in Europe would get their attention — Kobe is the reason the Lakers sell out the building and dominate the Los Angeles sports market (and sell out arenas on the road). Him playing in Italy would be a risk for the NBA.

But if this is not iron clad, owners will just roll their eyes. They will see the timing as a negotiations tactic.

Kobe grew up in Italy while his dad played professionally there and feels comfortable in the country. He speaks fluent Italian. It’s also just in Kobe’s go-for-it personality to jump at this, something Kevin Ding explored well at the Orange County Register. While I can give you plenty of logical reason for Kobe not to go — injury risk, wear and tear on a weakening knee — he is a guy who pushes himself and takes on every challenge. This would be a new challenge to conquer.

Still, I’m curious what Kobe has to say about this and if the Italian club can come up with the money.

Mavericks waive Deron Williams, he’s expected to sign in Cleveland as free agent

CHARLOTTE, NC - DECEMBER 01:  Deron Williams #8 of the Dallas Mavericks brings the ball down the floor against the Charlotte Hornets during their game at Spectrum Center on December 1, 2016 in Charlotte, North Carolina. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
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Hey LeBron James, here’s your backup point guard.

The Cavaliers cleared out a roster spot a couple of weeks ago letting Chris Andersen go, that was all about creating a space for a quality player waived by another team to come in.

How about Deron Williams? The Dallas Mavericks waived him just after the deadline passed on Thursday, the team announced.

Multiple reports say that once he clears waivers, he plans to sign with the Cavaliers.

It makes sense, Williams gets to contend for a title and will make a lot of playoff money with the run the Cavaliers make to the Finals (more than $300,000 if they get that far).

At age 32, Williams has accepted a smaller role and evolved from elite into a solid NBA point guard, averaging 13.1 points and 6.8 assists per game this season and shooting 34.8 percent from three. He’s more a floor general than a dynamic scorer anymore, and he’s not a great defender, but he will be perfect in the 15-20 minutes a night he has to play with Kyrie Irving resting.

Cleveland also is expected to make a run at landing Andrew Bogut, who the Sixers will waive in the coming day.

Celtics, Nuggets, others make runs but Paul George still a Pacer. For now.

LONDON, ENGLAND - JANUARY 12:  Paul George #13 of the Indiana Pacers in action during the NBA match between Indiana Pacers and Denver Nuggets at the O2 Arena on January 12, 2017 in London, England.  (Photo by Dan Mullan/Getty Images)
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During the All-Star weekend in New Orleans, an at times frustrated Paul George sat down with the Pacers ownership and front office and told them, in so many words, “I want to be a Pacer for life, but only if we can build a team that can contend for a title.”

Fans from Los Angeles to Boston only seemed to hear the second part of that, then when the trade rumors started to fly people were convinced he was on the move.

The Pacers focused on the first part of that sentence. Which is why he’s still a Pacer tonight.

Indiana went out and kicked the tires on deals, talking to a lot of teams. We know Boston came hard because this was the first time they have put one of their prized Brooklyn picks the next two seasons on the table.

The Hawks were trying.

Denver wants to make a run at the big time — remember they came hard at Dwyane Wade last summer — and they made a run at George.

Although, this would have gotten Denver to back off.

Those teams were not alone, but in the end, the Pacers passed on all of it.

Why? Because they heard the first part of that sentence above — they love Paul George and want him to be their cornerstone. They listened to offers, not nothing rose to the Godfather offer level it was going to have to for the Pacers to deal away their star and start a massive rebuilding project around Myles Turner.

That said, this conversation is not over.

Only two things will keep Paul George in Indiana past his free agency of 2018 (and if he leaves then his hometown Lakers are seen as a clear, runaway favorite). First, Larry Bird is able to build a contender around George in the next year. Not impossible, but highly unlikely.

The other is that George makes an All-NBA team this season, if that happens, the Pacers can offer him the “designated player” larger contract, around $210 million over five years (and $30 million more than he could make anywhere else). George may have frustrations and issues in Indiana, but he’s not leaving that cash on the table.

If George is not an All-NBA player this year (he’s on the bubble, but likely just outside the list with the top six forwards), and if Bird cannot quickly construct a contender, then the Pacers have to revisit these trades and try to get something back for their star.

They just weren’t ready to go there on Thursday.

Rumor: J.J. Redick has also already committed to re-signing with Clippers

Los Angeles Clippers guard J.J. Redick (4) reacts after making a 3-point shot during the overtime period of an NBA basketball game against the Houston Rockets in Los Angeles, Monday, Jan. 18, 2016. The Clippers won 140-132 in overtime. (AP Photo/Alex Gallardo)
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The Clippers face a make-or-break offseason.

It seems they might have already handled their major business.

Blake Griffin and Chris Paul have reportedly already agreed to re-sign. Now, it seems L.A.’s third major unrestricted free agent – J.J. Redick – might also be staying.

Steve Kyler of Basketball Insiders:

there is a belief that Redick already has committed to re-sign in July. Like Griffin and Paul, Redick is viewed as a core piece, and while his $7.3 million price tag is likely going way up, there is a belief that Rivers and the Clippers are ready to pay it.

The capped-out Clippers will have no mechanism to adequately replace Redick if they re-sign Paul and Griffin. Exceeding the cap to re-sign Redick is the only feasible path to maintaining contender status – a must with Paul, Griffin and DeAndre Jordan in place.

If Redick agreed this early to re-sign, that suggests he’s not going to extract every penny he can from the Clippers or that Clippers owner Steve Ballmer is willing to spend big. Redick really could have put the screws to the Clippers by playing hardball through free agency.

His leverage due simply to the Clippers’ cap situation would have been immense, but the rest of the league would have also provided a safety net. The 3-and-D skills that make Redick valuable to the Clippers would help any team.

All this said, Redick – and Paul and Griffin – can’t re-sign until July. No matter their intent today, there’s plenty of time for these deals to fall apart.

But the Clippers having assurances from all three to stay would be a big deal.

Report: Raptors acquire P.J. Tucker from Suns for Jared Sullinger, second round picks

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The Toronto Raptors went into the last few weeks in a slump on the court and with the need to improve at the forward slot if they had any dreams of reaching the Eastern Conference Finals again.

Then the Raptors added Serge Ibaka.

Now they have added P.J. Tucker from the Suns to the mix, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of The Vertical at Yahoo Sports.

This is a strong move for Toronto. Tucker is a physical guy who can play the three or the four, and he brings a strong defensive presence to the court — he is statistically one of the better defending small forwards in the league this season. He and DeMarre Carroll can give the Raptors a needed boost on that end, and Tucker is going to be great as a defensive matchup in certain playoff situations.

Toronto has made its move — first they hope to get back up to the two or three seed in the East (and avoid Cleveland in the second round). Then to make a stronger run at Cleveland in the conference finals — remember they took the Cavs six games last year.

What the Suns wanted was the picks. Sullinger is a solid player who can step into their rotation now, but is a downgrade — especially defensively — from Tucker. What the Suns start doing is looking for draft steals they can find in the second round.