Bears

Kobe, Italian team are working 'intensely' on deal

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Kobe, Italian team are working 'intensely' on deal

From Comcast SportsNet
ROME (AP) -- Kobe Bryant's representatives and Virtus Bologna are "working very intensely" to bring the Los Angeles Lakers' star to Italy during the NBA lockout. Bologna President Claudio Sabatini had told The Associated Press on Friday he had reached a tentative deal with agent Rob Pelinka for a 10-game contract worth more than 3 million. "Virtus Pallacanestro Bologna and the management of Mr. Bryant are working very intensely to try and create this important deal," the two parties said in a joint statement Monday. "Reaching such a complex deal requires both sides' maximum attention for every little detail. "Everyone wants a positive outcome to the deal, the goal of which is Kobe Bryant's presence in Italy, economic interests for the 17 clubs in Serie A and more attention for all of Italian basketball." The deal, however, hinges on other clubs changing their schedules to ensure Bologna has five home games during Bryant's 10-game contract. Bologna also wants its opening five away games played in Italy's biggest arenas, and wants to avoid an early-season bye. Smaller clubs Cremona and Varese have been reluctant to alter their schedules, although the Italian league said Saturday it was intervening to help spur an agreement. "I hope that very shortly we'll have a deal," Sabatini told the ANSA news agency. "I want to thank Kobe, who demonstrated again overnight that he wants to return to Italy." Bologna would need to have the deal signed by the end of this week to register Bryant before its opening game with Roma on Sunday. With Venezia recently added as a 17th team, the Italian league released its full schedule Monday. Although it could be changed again if Bryant signs with Bologna. After hosting Roma, Bologna visits Avellino the following weekend, then plays at Olimpia Milano, which recently signed Denver Nuggets forward Danilo Gallinari. In the following seven rounds, Bologna has home games with Cremona, Varese and Sassari; away games with Teramo, Montegranaro -- which is in talks with Toronto Raptors forward Andrea Bargnani -- and Biella; and a bye in the eighth week. Bryant lived in Italy between ages 6 and 13 while his father played in the country. He still speaks fluent Italian and has said it would be a "dream" to play in the country. In New York on Saturday, NBA owners and players failed to reach a new labor deal after about seven hours of talks focused mostly on the league's salary cap structure. The sides were meeting again Monday, though time is getting short to save the scheduled start of the regular season on Nov. 1.

2017 Bears position grades: Inside Linebacker

2017 Bears position grades: Inside Linebacker

2017 grade: B+

Level of need: Low

Decisions to be made on: Christian Jones (free agent), John Timu (free agent), Jonathan Anderson (free agent); Jerrell Freeman has reportedly been cut

Possible free agent targets: Demario Davis, Preston Brown, Anthony Hitchens, Avery Williamson, Navorro Bowman, Derrick Johnson

How the Bears rate Nick Kwiatkoski will be the key to figuring out what this unit will look like in 2018. Defensive coordinator Vic Fangio thought Kwiatkoski finished last season strong, but strong enough to rely on him in 2018 as the starter next to Danny Trevathan?

The thing with the Bears’ inside linebackers, though: Trevathan makes whoever is playing next to him better. The problem is Trevathan hasn’t been able to stay on the field — he missed time in 2017 with a calf injury and a one-game suspension, and missed half of 2016 after rupturing his Achilles’. Trevathan hasn’t played a full 16-game season since 2013, so durability is an issue for the soon-to-be 28-year-old.

So that leads to this question: Do the Bears need to find someone in free agency, regardless of how they value Kwiatkoski, who’s also missed time due to injuries in his first two years in the league?

Free agency could provide a few options. Demario Davis had a career high 97 tackles for the New York Jets last year and has never missed a game as a pro. Preston Brown had some decent production in Buffalo and also hasn’t missed a game since being drafted in 2014. Avery Williamson may not be a world-beater but has only missed one game in his four years in the NFL.

The Bears could also opt for someone who fits more of a rotational mold, like Dallas’ Anthony Hitchens, or try to lure a veteran linebacker like Navorro Bowman (who played for Vic Fangio in San Francisco) or Derrick Johnson (who Matt Nagy knows from his Kansas City days) to play next to Trevathan and/or Kwiatkoski.

The Bears could opt to keep the status quo and re-sign Christian Jones and John Timu for depth, and enter 2018 with Kwiatkoski and Trevathan as the team’s starters (Jerrell Freeman, who suffered a season-ending injury and then was hit with his second PED suspension in as many years, was cut on Tuesday). Signing a starting-caliber free agent isn’t out of the question, either, but there is a third option for the Bears if they appear to stand pat in free agency: Draft an inside linebacker in April. If that’s the route they go, Georgia’s Roquan Smith could be the guy. But again, those more pressing needs at other positions could mean the Bears don’t burn a first-round pick on an inside linebacker.

Three Things to Watch: Blackhawks collide with Senators

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NBC Sports Chicago

Three Things to Watch: Blackhawks collide with Senators

Here are Three Things to Watch when the Blackhawks take on the Ottawa Senators tonight on NBC Sports Chicago and streaming live on the NBC Sports app. Coverage begins at 6:30 p.m. with Blackhawks Pregame Live.

1. Trade chips.

The Blackhawks have reached the point in their season where they have no choice but to become sellers before the Feb. 26 deadline, and we saw that when they traded Michal Kempny to the Washington Capitals on Monday for a conditional third-round pick in 2018. Tommy Wingels could also be an attractive piece for a team looking to fill out their depth.

The Senators will definitely be sellers, and wow do they have some names potentially on the market that can fetch large returns: Derrick Brassard and Mike Hoffman are two players who log top-six minutes on a nightly basis and also have term left on their contract, which is great for teams looking to load up for this year and beyond.

The biggest name to watch, probably in the league altogether, is Erik Karlsson, who could be on the move if a team offers a big enough package for the Senators to pull the trigger now as opposed to in the offseason if they feel him re-signing is a long shot. He was the best defenseman last season, and if a team steps up to get him, they're getting two possible postseason runs out of him.

2. Artem Anisimov's experiment at left wing not working.

Joel Quenneville has tried rekindling the magic between Anisimov, Nick Schmaltz and Patrick Kane as of late, only this time Anisimov is playing the wing and it just hasn't been very effective. The trio was on the ice for each of the two 5-on-5 goals the Kings scored on Monday, and Anisimov completely lost his man on the first one.

It's important to establish a consistent left winger for Schmaltz and Kane, and maybe putting Alex DeBrincat up there is something you consider going forward as part of a long-term solution. Move Anisimov back down as the third-line center to play in more of a defensive role and continue using his big body on power plays for his offensive abilities might be the best bet.

3. Win the special teams battle.

In their last meeting against Ottawa on Jan. 9, the Blackhawks went 4-for-6 on the power play and 4-on-4 on the penalty kill in an 8-2 win. And those are two areas to look out for again.

The Senators own the 28th-ranked power play with a 16.1 percent success rate and 29th-ranked penalty kill with a 74.5 percent success rate. Get ready for another offensive outburst?