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“We have reached an economic deal,” Sabatini said. “There’s still some things to arrange, but at this point I’m very optimistic. I would say it’s 95 percent done.”

The deal would allow Bryant to return to the Lakers immediately if the lockout ends. The 33-year-old Bryant has three years and $83.5 million left on his contract with the Lakers, who could void the deal if Bryant is injured playing abroad.

Before the scheduling issues arose, Sabatini had said Bryant was 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,” he 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.”

Between ages 6 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.

Kobe Bryant, who still speaks Italian well, 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.”

On Wednesday, Bryant mingled with fans in Milan. He also received a warm welcome in Rome on Thursday, where he was brought to the Campidoglio museum to receive a commemorative medal from the 1960 Rome Olympics.

Bryant has been bothered in recent seasons by an arthritic joint in his right knee that required several minor operations. He sat out most of the Lakers‘ practices last season, and his scoring, shooting percentage and minutes decreased in his 15th NBA season.

Former USC guard Daniel Hackett, a dual citizen who plays for Pesaro in Italy, knows how he would play Bryant 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.”

Sabatini replied, “Fortunately not all Italian players think like Hackett.”

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