Spurs extend qualifying offers to Tiago Splitter and Gary Neal, making them restricted free agents

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The Spurs made sure that they’d at least have the option of bringing back every key member of a team that was within seconds of winning an NBA title last season, by extending qualifying offers to both Tiago Splitter and Gary Neal before the deadline passed to do so.

Splitter and Neal are now both restricted free agents, which means the Spurs have the right to match any offer either player receives to play somewhere else.

But that doesn’t mean that both of these guys will necessarily be back, and that’s especially true in Splitter’s case.

Dan McCarney of the San Antonio Express-News explains:

… as the Finals proved, Splitter’s skill set is not so developed that he’s essential. He has limited utility as a post player, and the Heat were able to force him off the court by going small. At 28, what you see is probably what you’re going to get — a solid, if unspectacular role player.

Yet it’s not unthinkable that Splitter, even after an underwhelming postseason and with the new CBA’s ultra-punitive tax thresholds potentially discouraging Monopoly-money contracts, could earn an offer surpassing $10 million. At that point the Spurs would have to think long and hard about going in a different direction.

If the asking price for Splitter reaches $10 million per year for three or four seasons, it would be difficult to see the Spurs going in that direction when there are other free agents they could better spend that money on that are younger or have more upside.

But San Antonio has long been about staying the course, and if the braintrust of Gregg Popovich and R.C. Buford believe that they can continue to develop Splitter, or that this core is poised to make another run at a title by keeping Splitter in the fold, then that’s exactly what they will do.

The Spurs will have some salary cap dollars to spend once they figure out what they’re going to pay Manu Ginobili, who is an unrestricted free agent but would return to San Antonio if he chooses to play another season or two over retirement.

The team could choose to pay Splitter the going rate, and simply use whatever’s left to supplement what was an incredibly good team last year.

Gordon Hayward’s agent says return this season unlikely

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Wednesday night in Boston Gordon Hayward underwent surgery to repair his dislocated ankle and fractured tibia suffered just five minutes into the season-opening game, a gruesome injury that put a pall over the rest of the night.

There had been hope from some Celtics fans that Hayward could return this season, likely for the playoffs, but now that the surgery is complete Hayward’s agent told Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN not to expect him back until next season.

This shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone who saw the injury. Hayward is in the first year of a four-year deal with the Celtics, they were always going to choose a cautious path rather than rush him back. Under Danny Ainge Boston has always taken the long view, even with all their moves this summer — specifically bringing in Hayward and Kyrie Irving — the target was to be the team set up for next as LeBron James and the Cavaliers faded. That plan does not change now.

Earlier in the day, Hayward had sent a video message out to Celtics fans thanking them for their support in the past 24 hours.

Without Hayward, the Celtics now will focus more on smaller lineups, rookie Jayson Tatum will get more run, as will Marcus Smart in his contract year. Jaylen Brown will be thrust into a more significant role. Also, Kyrie Irving will be asked to do more as the team’s second-best playmaker is now out for the season.

The Celtics will take a step back this season without Hayward, who was going to be crucial for them on both ends of the floor. That’s evidenced by their 0-2 start, falling to the Cavaliers and Bucks on the first couple nights of the season. Boston should still be a team well above .500 and in the playoffs, but they will not be quite the same this season.

Trail Blazers beat Suns by 48, biggest season-opening rout in NBA history

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Any controversy over C.J. McCollum‘s suspension for the season-opener should be put to rest. The Trail Blazers fared fine without him.

More than fine.

Portland beat the Suns, 124-76, Wednesday. The 48-point margin is the largest ever in a season opener, even as the Trail Blazers let a 58-point fourth-quarter lead dwindle.

Here are the most lopsided season-openers in NBA history (openers for both teams appearing twice):

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The 48-point defeat is also the Suns’ worst lost in franchise history, topping a 44-point loss to the Seattle SuperSonics in 1988. It could be a long year in Phoenix.

Marcus Smart and Matthew Dellavedova scrap (video)

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Marcus Smart and Matthew Dellavedova thrive on aggravating opponents, so when matched up, of course they aggravated each other.

Deduct points from Smart for pulling the hold-me-back charade behind a referee. Plus, Dellavedova’s Bucks beat Smart’s Celtics, 108-100.

Report: ‘Tremendous concern’ for Jeremy Lin’s knee injury

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The Nets’ projected record this season came under greater scrutiny when the Celtics traded Brooklyn’s unprotected first-round pick to the Cavaliers in the Kyrie Irving trade. After finishing third-to-last and last the previous two years, were the Nets poised to take a step forward, or would they convey a very high pick to the Cavs?

Jeremy Lin, who missed 46 games last season, getting healthy was a reason for optimism in Brooklyn and pessimism in Cleveland. But it appears the veteran guard could be out a while.

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

Billy Reinhardt of Nets Daily:

If the injury is as bad as feared, what a bummer for Lin. He came to Brooklyn expecting to play a leading role on a developing team, and he just can’t stay healthy.

The Nets were probably more focused on developing their younger players, but – especially without their own draft picks – there was no harm in shooting for the playoffs. This appears to a blow to that (already unlikely) dream.

It’s a boon to the Cavaliers, though. And whenever something significantly affects LeBron James‘ team, it has ramifications into the entire power dynamic of the Eastern Conference. For an injury to a player on a team most expect to be bad, the medical developments here will be tracked closely around the league.