Kobe to play in Italy during lockout

516262.jpg

Kobe to play in Italy during lockout

From Comcast SportsNet
ROME (AP) -- Italian club Virtus Bologna said it has reached a verbal agreement with Kobe Bryant for the Los Angeles Lakers star to play in Italy during the NBA lockout. "We have reached an economic deal," Virtus president Claudio Sabatini told a local radio station. "There's still some things to arrange but at this point I'm very optimistic. I would say it's 95 percent done." A person with knowledge of the negotiations told The Associated Press on Friday that the sides have settled on a 3 million contract for the opening 40 days of the Italian league season. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because the deal has still not been signed. Bryant, who spent much of his childhood in Italy, was in the country for sponsor appearances over the past two days but was flying back to the U.S. for labor talks with the NBA on Friday. Bryant is expected to get a work visa and return to Italy next week. "Kobe should be in Bologna by Wednesday or Thursday with his visa in hand for medical visits and then we can deposit the contract with the league," Sabatini said. "I want to make clear that right now there are still no signatures. We've got to write the contract, which will then be read over and over again." 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. The deal, which would allow Bryant to return to the Lakers immediately if the lockout ends, should last about 10 games. Sabatini wants to create a special schedule that assigns Bryant's games to Italy's biggest arenas. "This is an important investment and a unique chance for the city of Bologna and all of Italian basketball," Sabatini said. "I'm hoping everyone wants to collaborate." The 33-year-old Bryant has three years and 83.5 million left on his contract with the Lakers. Between the ages of six and 13, Bryant lived in Italy when his father Joe Bryant played with Rieti, Reggio Calabria, Pistoia and Reggiana from 1984-91. The elder Bryant also once owned a small part of Olimpia Milano. He now coaches the Los Angeles Sparks in the WNBA. The younger Bryant still speaks Italian fairly well, and discussed his memories of his time in the country during an interview with the Gazzetta dello Sport two days ago. "Italy is my home. It's where my dream of playing in the NBA started. This is where I learned the fundamentals, learned to shoot, to pass and to (move) without the ball," Bryant told the Italian newspaper. "All things that when I came back to America the players my age didn't know how to do because they were only thinking about jumping and dunking." Bryant added that playing in Italy "would be a dream for me." Bryant has been bothered in recent seasons by an arthritic joint in his right knee, which has required several minor operations. He sat out a majority of the Lakers' practices last season and saw his scoring, shooting percentage and minutes decrease in his 15th NBA season. Former USC guard Daniel Hackett, a dual citizen who plays for Pesaro in Italy, said he would give Bryant a hostile reception if he faced the former NBA MVP. "The only way to stop a player that good is with a hard foul and he knows that," Hackett said. "I've got five fouls to commit and they're going to be the hardest five fouls I've ever committed." Hackett also criticized speculation that Bologna will ask opposing clubs hosting Bryant's away games to chip in a portion of ticket sales to help pay Bryant's salary. "I really hope Kobe doesn't lower himself to this level for economic and commercial motives," Hackett said, according to the Gazzetta. "To me, it would be a big disappointment to see him here under these circumstances, and a loss of respect for a player who is too big to dirty his hands in this league." Bologna president Sabatini replied, "Fortunately not all Italian players think like Hackett." Turkish club Besiktas and at least one team in China had also expressed interest in Bryant, who has won five NBA championships and been an All-Star 13 times. Bologna also recently approached Spurs swingman Manu Ginobili, who played with the club before joining San Antonio in 2002. Denver Nuggets forward Danilo Gallinari rejoined his former Italian club Olimpia Milano last week. The NBA season is scheduled to open Nov. 1 but owners and players have failed to agree on a new labor deal. The two sides are at odds over how to divide the league's revenue, a salary cap structure and the length of guaranteed contracts. Last week, NBA officials announced the postponement of training camp and the cancellation of 43 preseason games. Virtus has won 15 Italian league titles but none since 2001, when it also won the Euroleague for the second time. Bologna did not qualify for this season's Euroleague, although the team has big ambitions after signing former Clemson point guard Terrell McIntyre, who led Siena to four consecutive Italian titles before transferring to Malaga in Spain before last season. Having mingled with fans in Milan on Wednesday, Bryant also received a warm welcome in Rome on Thursday, where he was brought to the Campidoglio museum to be given a commemorative medal from the 1960 Rome Olympics.

Kings' Cousins: 'Only goal this season' is to make playoffs

Kings' Cousins: 'Only goal this season' is to make playoffs

With their 109-104 victory over the Detroit Pistons on Monday night, the Sacramento Kings sit 10 games under .500 at 17-27. In almost any other season, that would mean that they were dead in the water in the Western Conference playoff race. But this it the 2016-17 season where anything is possible at the bottom.

Following Sacramento’s win at the Palace at Auburn Hills, DeMarcus Cousins was asked about the playoff picture.

“It’s my only goal this season,” Cousins told reporters following the game. “My only goal.” 

When pushed on the subject, he gave a more complete answer.

“Oh man, it’s eating me alive - every loss or every time another team wins that’s battling for the eighth spot, it’s eating me alive,” Cousins added. “Our only goal is to be in the playoffs this season.”

The Kings snapped a five-game losing streak with the win over the Pistons and they came into the evening just 2-10 over their previous 12 games. 

Once they get through their current eight game road trip, they spend the entire month of February in the Pacific time zone and play 11 over their next 13 games at Golden 1 Center.  

“The one thing I can give credit to this team about is us staying together and being a positive locker room through the ups and downs,” Cousins said. “I’m still confident and I still believe we’re going to make that push for the playoffs.”

Despite the rough patch, the Kings remain just a game and a half out of the eighth spot in the Western Conference standings. No one is running away with that last playoff spot, at least not yet.

 

Lawson, bench unit spark Kings' much-needed win over Pistons

Lawson, bench unit spark Kings' much-needed win over Pistons

Everyone must contribute. With Rudy Gay gone for the season, Sacramento needs a team effort each night out if they are going to have a chance of turning things around. Balancing the roster on the fly is never easy, but it’s the hand that the Kings were dealt when their second leading scorer tore his Achilles last week.

Needing a win in the worst way, the Kings walked into the Palace at Auburn Hills and came away with a huge 109-104 victory. Demarcus Cousins put up numbers, but it was the supporting cast that found a way to rise to the occasion and snap the team’s five-game losing streak.

“We’re going to need everybody on this team,” Cousins told reporters following the game. “At some point, everyone on the bench is going to win a game for us. Tonight, it was Ty (Lawson), it was Willie (Cauley-Stein) and it was Malachi (Richardson).”

Lawson was a magician with the ball. He entered the game with the Kings down just one with 3:36 remaining in the first quarter, but the Pistons caught fire around that time and pushed the lead to 11 with 20 seconds remaining in the quarter.

It looked like Sacramento might fall behind big once again, but then Lawson and the bench unit took over.

“Ty Lawson, Malachi Richardson and Willie Cauley-Stein had a great energy when we were down 11 in the first half,” Joerger told reporters. “Obviously, probably the best Willie’s played all year. Same for Malachi. He got some run, he got a little burn in the second half, felt pretty good.”

Powered by Lawson, the offense instantly opened up in the second quarter as the Kings tracked down the Pistons on their home floor. Sacramento outscored Detroit 37-24 in the frame to take a three point lead into the intermission. Lawson posted nine points and handed out four assists in the quarter.

“When our offense gets sticky, he’s able to create shots for guys by getting kickouts and getting in the lane,” Joerger said.

The 5-foot-11 point guard didn’t let up in the second half, finishing the night with 19 points and six assists in 23 minutes of action.  

“Chico just goes and plays, man, that’s Chico,” Cousins said of Lawson. “If there’s anyone with a green light to just go and play, it’s him. We love what he does with this team. He’s a spark off the bench for us. He gets us going when there’s a slump. We love the little guy.”

Lawson has become a catalyst off the bench for coach Jeorger. The 29-year-old speedster signed a one-year deal with the Kings late in the offseason and he’s quickly found his niche with the team.

“You play with Ty, you can’t help by want to run, because he will pitch it to you and that’s the best motivation - everybody wants to score,” said Joerger.

Cousins and Lawson didn’t do it alone. Cauley-Stein had one of his games of the season, finishing the night with 12 points and five rebounds. Darren Collison added 12 points, Garrett Temple chipped in 11 points and veteran Matt Barnes added 10 points and eight rebounds.  

“It’s a big, bounce back win,” Cousins said. “We were kind of heartbroken about the last lost. We felt we did everything needed to pull a win and it just didn’t go that way for us. We kind of showed our character and showed we could overcome some type of adversity with the win tonight.”

The Kings are back at it on Wednesday in Cleveland when they hit game four of their season-long eight-game road trip. They’ll face LeBron James and the championship Cavs for the second time this month.  

“It’s huge, we had a little stretch where we lost like eight of nine games, something like that,” Lawson told CSN’s Kayte Christensen following the game. “Getting a win going into Cleveland, it makes us feel a little bit better. Now we’ve got to go in and get a tough one.”

A tough one indeed. Cleveland sits at 31-13 on the season, but they are coming off back-to-back losses against the Spurs and Pelicans.