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.

Gregg Popovich will not coach Game 4 following death of his wife, Erin

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San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich will not be on the sidelines again for Game 4 Sunday following the death of his wife, Erin, to a lengthy illness.

Ettore Messina will again coach the Spurs.

Popovich also missed Game 3. His San Antonio Spurs are down 3-0 to the Golden State Warriors in the first-round matchup. None of that matters compared to the loss of a woman he loved and was married to for four decades.

Erin Popovich’s passing has cast a pall over the series, especially with Warriors coach Steve Kerr being very close to the Popovichs dating back to his playing days with the Spurs.

The reaction and sadness about Erin’s passing has reached well beyond this series.

Our thoughts are with the Popovich family in this difficult time.

Anthony Davis’ 47 points, Pelicans sweep Trail Blazers out of playoffs

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NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Anthony Davis scored 33 of his franchise playoff-record 47 points in the second half, and the New Orleans Pelicans completed a first-round playoff sweep of the Portland Trail Blazers with a 131-123 victory on Saturday.

Jrue Holiday capped his 41-point performance with an 18-foot pull-up jumper that gave the Pelicans a six-point lead with 40 seconds left.

Rajon Rondo added 16 assists, and Davis also had 11 rebounds and three blocks for New Orleans, which is moving on to the second round of the playoffs for only the second time since the NBA returned to the city 16 seasons ago.

C.J. McCollum scored 38 for the Trail Blazers, who responded to a blowout loss in Game 3 by keeping Game 4 close until the final minute. Al-Farouq Aminu scored 27, Damian Lillard added 18 points and Jusuf Nurkic had 18 points and 11 rebounds before fouling out.

Lillard’s difficult driving layup had just tied the game at 60 when the Pelicans briefly pulled away, going on an 11-2 run capped by Davis’ 3.

Soon after, Nikola Mirotic added step-back 3. Davis, who scored 19 in the third quarter, then added a layup while falling down after a hard foul by Aminu, after which Davis flexed both biceps while still sitting on the court.

Holiday’s transition 3 made it 87-72, prompting Portland to call timeout while Holiday walked slowly toward mid-court, nodding and smiling wide as he soaked in the crowd’s adulation.

New Orleans led by 13 to start the fourth quarter, but Portland refused to wilt, opening the period on a 15-4 run that included Nurkic’s hook shot, 20-foot jumper and dunk. McCollum’s transition layup made it 104-102 with nearly nine minutes to play.

Portland got as close as a single point on Aminu’s layup with 5:08 to go, but Davis responded with 12 points over the final 4:56, starting with a layup as he was fouled and a 3-pointer. Holiday scored six points during the final 2:52, starting with his 3-pointer. The pair combined for all but one of New Orleans’ points during that pivotal stretch.

Leading up to Game 4, Lillard spoke of the need for the Blazers to ramp up their intensity and physicality. From the tip, it looked as though they’d done so.

In stark contrast to Game 3, when New Orleans led by 18 in the first quarter, this game was tight and testy.

Anthony and Ed Davis received double technical fouls after bumping one another following one of Anthony Davis’ dunks – and that was just the beginning.

McCollum was called for a flagrant foul when he stormed into the lane behind E'Twaun Moore and grabbed the Pelicans guard by the shoulders to thwart a driving layup attempt. Moore then shoved McCollum and was assessed a technical foul.

And in the final seconds of the half, double technicals were assessed to Rondo and Portland center Zach Collins after Rondo lowered his forehead into Collins’ chest and Collins shoved back.

When halftime arrived, New Orleans led 58-56.

 

 

Twins Marcus, Markieff Morris each fined by league for separate instances

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Twins Marcus and Markieff Morris have a special bond, one that includes doing so much together on the basketball court — playing at the same high school, the same AAU team, then going to college together at Kansas, and even playing together in the NBA for a while together with the Suns (they are now on separate teams).

That includes them both getting fined Saturday by the NBA for recent actions during the playoffs.

Washington’s Markieff Morris picked up a $25,000 fine for “attempting to escalate an altercation and pushing a game official,” the league announced. Here is the play in question, just minutes into Game 3.

Toronto’s OG Anunoby draws a foul knocking Morris to the ground, but Morris starts the incident with an elbow to Anunoby’s back, and he does push referee Kenny Mauer. Considering all that, a $25,000 fine is not that severe.

His twin Marcus Morris picked up a $15,000 for “public criticism of the officiating,” which he certainly did following the Celtics’ Game 3 loss to the Bucks. Here are his comments, and they are NSFW.

That $15,000 fine is pretty much the going rate for ripping the referees after the game.

Markieff outdid his brother on this one… if you consider getting the larger fine the “win.”

As expected, likely top-three pick Luka Doncic files to enter NBA draft

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Luka Doncic — the 6’8″ point forward who is putting up impressive numbers against men at the highest levels of European basketball — is bringing is game to the NBA. As expected.

Shams Charania of The Vertical at Yahoo Sports said the expected is now official.

Doncic, 19, submitted draft paperwork this week to formally enter his name, league sources said. Doncic is arguably the most decorated European player to make a jump to the NBA, a wunderkind who’s been playing in the EuroLeague since 2015. He is currently leading Real Madrid in the EuroLeague playoffs, averaging 14.9 points, 4.7 rebounds and 4.4 assists this season.

The 6-foot-7 Doncic has the ability to play multiple positions, from being a primary ball-handler to shooting and playmaking off the ball. His season in Europe could continue into late May or June. NBA executives have long been intrigued by Doncic’s potential stardom, and several are continuing to make scouting trips for him.

Doncic is expected to go in the top three (likely the top two) come this June’s draft.

If you’re about to bring up Darko Milicic or some other European bust, just stop. This Slovenian has proven he can play — in 54 games this season between Liga ACB (Spain’s league, second best in the NBA) and the Euroleague, Doncic is averaging 14.8 points, 5.1 rebounds and 4.6 assists a game. He has shown a gift for passing that should blossom in the more open play of the NBA, plus he just knows how to run a team and make plays. He can score when called upon and has three-point range, can shoot off the bounce, and if you switch a smaller guy onto him, Doncic can just post him up.

He’s not going to be a bust.

However, what his ceiling is remains the debate. He’s not an elite athlete by NBA standards who has struggled at points for Real Madrid when guarded by borderline-NBA level Americans in Europe. Can he defend at the NBA level? Can he be consistent with his jumper? He may be elite, but it’s no given.

He’s going to be good, and his floor is higher than a lot of the other top prospects in this draft class. However, if a GM thinks that Marvin Bagley III or Mohamed Bamba both have a higher ceiling and can reach it, they may go with the Americans. Doncic is going to put some GMs in an interesting position.