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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.

Report: Knicks grumbling about Jeff Hornacek’s lineups and rotations

DENVER, CO - DECEMBER 17: Head coach Jeff Hornacek of the New York Knicks watches as his team plays the Denver Nuggets at the Pepsi Center on December 17, 2016 in Denver, Colorado. 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 Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)
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Knicks coach Jeff Hornacek has seemingly steered clear of the Phil Jackson-Carmelo Anthony feud. Hornacek has even avoided Jackson, one of the greatest coaches of all time, overly interfering.

But Hornacek hasn’t sidestepped every fissure in New York.

Veteran Knicks are reportedly frustrated with the defensive scheme, though some of that resentment could be pinned on assistant coach Kurt Rambis. Derrick Rose has reportedly been increasingly frustrated with Hornacek. And apparently he’s not the only one.

Ian Begley of ESPN:

Privately, players have been grumbling about lineups and rotations during the recent losing skid, according to sources. Brandon Jennings hinted at this after Monday’s loss when he spoke with frustration about the inconsistent nature of the Knicks’ recent lineups.

“Every day is something new. So just got to be ready I guess. You never know when you’re going to play,” he said.

Jennings was asked if the inconsistent rotations make things difficult for players.

“Yeah, when you come in here you don’t really know what’s going to happen, so it’s kind of no consistency and it’s really tough right now,” he said. “Right now, you come in here you don’t know what’s going to happen. I’m struggling. It’s difficult for me, because I don’t really know what’s going on. Just take it one day at a time.”

Jennings isn’t the only player expressing dissatisfaction beyond anonymous leaks.

According to Marc Berman of the New York Post, Rose and Hornacek yelled at each other after Rose – who called on Hornacek to coach defense harder – got beat by Dennis Schroder on this play:

Berman reports Kyle O'Quinn also glared at Hornacek after being subbed out during the Knicks’ loss to the Hawks.

After the game, Courtney Lee – whom Hornacek removed the starting lineup – posted and deleted photos of Dumb & Dumber on Instagram. Lee then followed with this caption:

I posted a pic of dumb n dumber cuz that was my mood, no jab at no1. It’s dumb that we have a talented team and we’re in position to win games n keep losing by 1 possession. We’ll figure it out collectively as a team but that was my mood after the game. Has nothing to with any change, rotation, system, players, coaches, so let that be clear.

Are we reading too much into vague social media postings and distant body language? That is a real risk.

But Hornacek still appears to have issues with these Knicks. The debate should be a matter of the depth of the problems, not whether they exist.

This is what happens when teams lose 11 of 13. Players get frustrated and grumble.

The coach also often adjusts the rotation, which Hornacek has done, including starting Ron Baker. Jennings and co. haven’t earned stability in their roles. When they had that, they were losing.

The question now: Can Hornacek reclaim the players’ trust, which would help the team break its skid? Or does the griping – and, partially as a result, the losing – continue in a season-destroying snowball?

PBT Extra: Carmelo Anthony/Phil Jackson rift just adds to Knicks stagnation

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Carmelo Anthony and Phil Jackson had a chilly talk, and Anthony told Jackson the star forward wants to stay in New York. Which, based on the mind games we’re seeing, is not what Jackson wants — although you get the feeling Jackson wants to move Anthony to bring in more stop-gap, win now pieces rather than try to build a future around Kristaps Porzingis.

Which all speaks to why the Knicks have made the playoffs just three times in 13 years. What is the Knicks long-term plan?

I discuss it all in this latest PBT Extra. Well, except the long-term plan because nobody knows what that is.

Rajon Rondo strangely runs behind Rick Carlisle during play (video)

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This would be ignored – still odd, but ignored – if it weren’t for their history.

But Rajon Rondo running behind Rick Carlisle during the Mavericks’ win over the Bulls raised a couple eyebrows in curiosity and drew a few chuckles. What was Rondo doing?

At least Carlisle explained why he didn’t call timeout before Wesley Matthewsgame-winning 3-pointer. The Dallas coach had Rondo in mind.

K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune:

Mike D’Antoni: “James Harden was the perfect superstar for how I would like to coach”

WASHINGTON, DC - NOVEMBER 07: James Harden #13 of the Houston Rockets looks on against the Washington Wizards during the first half at Verizon Center on November 7, 2016 in Washington, DC. 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 Patrick Smith/Getty Images)
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It’s not exactly Seven Seconds or Less Part 2 in Houston, but it may be closer to Mike D’Antoni’s ultimate vision.

The Rockets are 32-12 with the third-best offense in the NBA (Toronto and Golden State), and it’s an analytics wet dream of threes and shots at the rim. It’s all come together because James Harden bought in. Steve Nash ran the offense brilliantly but differently — Harden is as good or better with his style (which gets him to the line more often).

The brilliant Howard Beck at Bleacher Report got everyone to talk about the Rockets rapid rise and how it all came together. It’s must read. Plus there are some brilliant quotes, starting with Harden about D’Antoni pitching the move to point guard:

“I thought he was crazy,” says Harden, who earned his stardom at shooting guard….

Or as D’Antoni put it, “James Harden was the perfect superstar for how I would like to coach.”

“People always ask, ‘You traded for him; did you know he was this good?'” (Rockets GM Daryl) Morey says. “I’m like, ‘F–k no!’ I mean, we thought he was extremely good and better than other teams probably did.”

But not top-five good or, say, top-three, which Morey would make the case for today.

Harden is MVP-level good. What’s more, the Rockets are knocking on the door of contender good. The pedestrian defense isn’t there yet (18th in the NBA for the season, 15th for the month of January), questions about depth and if young key cogs like Clint Capela can grow into the roles the Rockets need them to, and there are the health concerns considering the histories of Eric Gordon and Ryan Anderson.

But the Rockets are dangerous right now and could reach the Western Conference Finals this season if healthy and things break right (their style and athleticism would be a tough test for the Spurs).  And the story of how it all came together is fascinating.