Lakers' Cooper Nears Deal With Italians

From Associated Press

Michael Cooper is practically in the hands of the Italian major league team Il Messaggero.

The coach of Il Messaggero said today the deal to land Cooper, expected to be released by the Los Angeles Lakers, should be completed later in the week.

"We must only wait for a few days for the actual signing," Valerio Bianchini, coach of Il Messaggero, told a Milan sports daily. "Cooper is practically in our hands."

The signing of the 34-year-old Cooper would give the Italian team its second foreign player, the limit for Italian major league clubs. The team recently signed Yugoslav star Dino Radja to a five-year, multimillion-dollar contract.

Bianchini said Cooper is likely to be released by the Lakers a year before his contract expires "under condition he does not sign with another NBA team.

"He's enthusiastic about the idea of transferring to Rome," Bianchini said.

The Lakers, meanwhile, said no decision on Cooper has been made.

"Our organization and Michael's representative are still exploring opportunities that would be in Michael's best interest and our club's best interest," Lakers Assistant General Manager Mitch Kupchak said. "Obviously, there are a lot of things going on. We're discussing them. No decision has been made."

Last week, it was reported that the Lakers are planning to put Cooper on waivers Wednesday and any NBA team would have 48 hours to claim him at his salary of a little more than $600,000. If all teams pass, Cooper would be free to accept the Il Messaggero offer.

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