Miami Heat v San Antonio Spurs - Game 5

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.

Magic’s Aaron Gordon with the over-the-mascot mad dunk

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TORONTO — Aaron Gordon was giving Zach LaVine all he could handle in the Dunk Contest.

He blew the lid off the Air Canada Centre with this dunk in the first round — and it wasn’t even his best dunk of the night. Never seen this before.

This dunk contest was awesome, so much more video to come.

Zach LaVine opens Slam Dunk Contest title defense with spectacular behind-the-back slam (VIDEO)

during the BBVA Compass Rising Stars Challenge 2016 at Air Canada Centre on February 12, 2016 in Toronto, Canada. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.
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TORONTO — Zach LaVine clearly heard all the talk that Aaron Gordon or Will Barton had a chance to upset him in the Slam Dunk Contest. He came out ready to prove his superiority right off the bat. This behind-the-back slam was his first attempt of the night:

Even better was the reaction, both from Andre Drummond and from LaVine’s Minnesota teammates:

Splash Brothers showtime: Klay Thompson beats Stephen Curry to win Three-Point Contest

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TORONTO — It came down to the Splash Brothers. Because of course it did. Just like last season.

In the final round of the NBA All-Star Saturday Three-Point Shootout, defending champ Stephen Curry hit his first eight shots and set the bar high with 23 points — the best score of the night.

His backcourt teammate Klay Thompson responded by draining his last seven shots, which included the entire money rack, and put up 27 points — tying the event record.

That gave Thompson the upset win and the Three-Point Contest title.

Although, is it an upset if the second best shooter in the game beats the best?

“It was like déjà vu last year,” Thompson said. “Not gonna lie, I got nervous when he hit his first eight, and I didn’t think he was going to miss. But it was exciting, just coming back to Oakland [with the title], you know. Back-to-back years for Splash Brothers, it’s pretty cool.”

So does Thompson have bragging rights?

“(For) about 364 days, and then — but that’s a daily thing we do,” Thompson said. “We love to shoot against each other. You know, I’ve never been on a team with someone who shoots it better than me, so it’s a privilege to work with him every day. He makes me that much better.”

The Final round was two you expected — the Splash Brothers — plus one few did, Suns rookie Devin Booker.

Getting there was not simple. In the first round, Thompson set a high bar going first and putting up 22. Curry got hot in the middle, then hit the last two money balls to reach 21. James Harden and J.J. Redick ( who stayed behind the line this year) scored very solid 20s. Later 19-year-old rookie Booker put up a 20 to tie those two veterans. Milwaukee’s Khris Middleton (13 points) Portland’s C.J. McCollum (14) and home-town crowd favorite Raptor Kyle Lowry (15) got bounced. .

That left Harden, Redick, and McCollum in a tiebreaker, and the rookie calmly put up a 12 in 30 seconds to advance.

Booker took a step back in the final round with a 16.

Not that it mattered with the Splash Brothers in the building.

Kobe Bryant doesn’t want Stephen Curry to pass him the ball in the All-Star Game

OAKLAND, CA - NOVEMBER 24:  Stephen Curry #30 of the Golden State Warriors meets at center court with Kobe Bryant #24 of the Los Angeles Laker prior to the start of their NBA basketball game at ORACLE Arena on November 24, 2015 in Oakland, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)
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TORONTO — Throughout All-Star Weekend, one thing has been clear: this is the Kobe Bryant show, and everything else is secondary. Since Bryant’s November announcement that he’s retiring at the end of the season, every road game he plays has been another stop on an elongated farewell tour. His 18th and final All-Star Game, in which he received the most votes of any player, is no exception.

It’s on the minds of the other players, too, and they want to make his final All-Star trip as special as possible.

“We joked and kind of talked about it,” Stephen Curry said after practice on Saturday when asked if the other players are going to make a concerted effort to help Bryant win the All-Star Game MVP. “Obviously, that would be a cool story for him to go out like that, but you never know how the game’s going to unfold. Every All-Star Game is different and I think the NBA and us players try to do the best job we can of honoring his career and his last stop for All-Star Weekend. Lot of different ceremonies, tribute videos, all sorts of ways to remember his career and acknowledge what he’s meant to the game. So I’m sure that will continue throughout the course of tomorrow night.”

Bryant, of course, wants no part of such a thing.

“Steph said, ‘I have a lot of assists for you,'” Bryant said. “I said, ‘Don’t. What are you doing? You’re a shooter, you grew up watching me. What the hell are you talking about, you’re going to pass the ball at an All-Star Game. Are you crazy?'”

It was the most Kobe response imaginable. But whether he wants it or not, he’s going to be given a lot of opportunities to score on Sunday. The All-Star Game is an exhibition for the fans, and the fans want to see Kobe. And practically every player involved in the weekend’s festivities gave some kind of testimonial about what Bryant meant to them and to the sport over the past two decades. So if the game plan is to get Kobe the MVP, it’s tough to imagine anyone having a problem with it.

Curry, however, wouldn’t commit to giving Bryant the last shot of his last All-Star Game.

“He might have to come steal it out of my hands,” Curry said. “But I’m pretty confident in either one of us or anybody else on the team taking the shot. It’s the All-Star Game so there is so much talent out there.”