Kobe Bryant soaks up final All-Star appearance

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TORONTO — With about a minute left in the fourth quarter, Kobe Bryant out of the All-Star Game for the final time with 10 points, 6 rebounds, 7 assists in 25 minutes. He received a standing ovation from the crowd and hugged every player on both teams.

It was the culmination of a night that started with an extended tribute to the 18-time All-Star and third all-time leading scorer, who announced in November that he’s retiring at the end of the season. For Bryant, it was all about reflecting on his career and enjoying the moment.

“It was fun,” Bryant said in his postgame press conference. “I had a blast playing with those guys, laughing and joking with them on the bench. And, you know, I got a chance to stop Pau [Gasol] in a post, redeem myself from what he did to me when Chicago came to town. But all those things are just fun. I had a great time. I had a great, great time.”

All weekend, players shared stories about what Bryant meant to them and to the game. An environment like All-Star Weekend is the perfect venue for such reflections, because the game itself is an exhibition and the entire event is a show for the fans, above all else.

Bryant enjoyed the adulation he received from the younger players in the game.

“Well, I think it’s the stories of when they first came into the league and they were matching up against me,” Bryant said. “Just kind of the little things that — an elbow here or a steal here, and then wanting to earn my respect at an early age, right? Coming into the league, playing against me, wanting to prove to me that they were as competitive. When I hear those kind of stories, man, that makes me feel real good. Because over the years you’re competing against each other. Those aren’t stories you’re ever going to share with somebody that you’re competing against, right. But at this stage, it feels absolutely wonderful to hear these those things.”

Now, with this joyous weekend out of the way, Bryant will go back to a miserable Lakers season that will see his team out of the playoffs for the third year in a row with one of the worst records in the NBA. It’s not an ideal situation for him to end his career, but he’s making the best of it.

“You try to make the second half better than the first,” he said. “And you try to forget about what happened the first half of the season in a sense of what our record is, and take this break to come in and feel like you have a clean slate, right? Mentally approach it as you’re 0-0, and see if we can’t get better. Because as the season progresses and season ends, you want to feel like free agents and other players around the league are looking at the Lakers roster and saying they have some talent and they have some potential. So that’s what we want to try to do.”

For the final two months of the season, Bryant will continue to make the rounds in his farewell tour, ensuring that even the meaningless games of a lottery team will have some special meaning for him. But for now, his final All-Star Weekend was a tremendous tribute to his greatness.

NBA Free Agency Preview: Top five power forwards

ATLANTA, GA - MAY 06:  Al Horford #15 of the Atlanta Hawks reacts after hitting a three-point basket against the Cleveland Cavaliers in Game Three of the Eastern Conference Semifinals during the 2016 NBA Playoffs at Philips Arena on May 6, 2016 in Atlanta, Georgia.  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 Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
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It’s become arguably the most in-demand position in the NBA — but you can’t just be a back-to-the-basket, hang inside the paint guy anymore. A modern NBA power forward better is able to stretch the floor out to the three-point line.

There are a handful of good power forwards on the market, but the quality drops off pretty quickly. This list does not include players such as Pau Gasol and Joakim Noah, who can play the four but function mostly as centers in today’s game. Here’s our list.

1) Al Horford. The second best free agent on the market this season after Kevin Durant, Horford is valuable because he can play the four or the five, and he does everything well on a basketball court. He can knock down threes or score inside, he’s a good passer and a quality defender. The Hawks will hope to retain him but it will take a five-year max offer (and they may ultimately regret the last year or two of that deal as he just turned 30), but he will have options as teams from Los Angeles through Boston would love the chance to pitch him and get him on their team. Does Horford take the money to be on a good but not contending team in the Hawks, or does he chase glory elsewhere?

2) Dirk Nowitzki. It was amusing that rumors of Nowitzki bolting Dallas to go to Golden State and chase a ring came up this week — that became a story despite the near zero percent chance it happens. Nowitzki has said if he didn’t have a ring already he may have chased one, but as he has that 2011 title he wants to stay put. Mark Cuban would give Nowitzki whatever he wants, but Dirk will take a deal that is best for the team.

3) Ryan Anderson. A prototypical stretch four, he can knock down threes but also put the ball on the floor and get boards. He hasn’t done that at the same rate in recent years due to injuries. A lot of teams looking for a stretch four — the Wizards, Kings, Lakers, among others — either already are or quickly will turn to Anderson. He’s just 28 and some team is going to pay him like the injuries are in his past. Just wait.

4) Jared Sullinger (restricted). The Celtics are reportedly willing to let him walk if a team comes in with a healthy offer, ending the annual training camp tradition in Boston of “how much does Sullinger weigh this year?” He’s a wide body inside, but he can space the floor out to the three-point line. He’s nobody’s first choice, but the offers will start to come in once teams miss out on their higher targets.

5) Jared Dudley. Dudley is an example of the evolution of the league — he came in as a wing player, a three, but is now used primarily as a stretch four. One of the best guys in the league (he’s great in the locker room), he’s a solid bench player who could help out a number of teams. Some team will come to him as likely their third choice, but that team will end up with a quality role player who helps them out.

Others of note: Nene, David West, Terrence Jones, Mirza Teletovic, Luis Scola.

Report: Nets shopping point guard Jarrett Jack, if can’t find partner will waive him

MIAMI, FL - DECEMBER 28: Jarrett Jack #2 of the Brooklyn Nets dribbles during a game against the Miami Heat at American Airlines Arena on December 28, 2015 in Miami, Florida. 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. Mandatory copyright notice:  (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
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Jarrett Jack‘s season ended last January with a torn ACL.

He’s worked hard in rehab to make his NBA comeback next season, but that will not be in Brooklyn — the Nets are trying to trade him, but if that doesn’t happen by Thursday they will waive him and make him a free agent, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports.

If the Nets are unable to find a trade for Jack before his contract guarantee date on Thursday, the franchise is planning to waive him, sources said.

Jack will be owed $500,000 of the $6.3 million on his 2016-17 contract if waived by Thursday. The move will deliver the Nets $44 million in salary-cap space for the free agency period starting on Friday.

Why would a team trade for Jack? To clear their own cap space — they could trade for him Wednesday and waive him Thursday, freeing up cap space. The Nets, in turn, would get a player they want as part of their roster next season. If not, Brooklyn will take the cap space and keep it.

Jack is a solid backup point who can get a team some buckets, he averaged 12.8 points and 7.4 assists per game last season. That said, he turns 33 right as next season starts and he’s coming off an ACL injury, the market for his services is not going to be robust, but after teams work through the top free agent point guards — Mike Conley, Jeremy Lin, Deron Williams, Brandon Jennings, Matthew Dellavedova, etc. — Jack will get a call. And he’ll play well.

Report: Frustrated Dwyane Wade opens up bidding to teams other than Heat

MIAMI, FL - MAY 13:  Dwyane Wade #3 of the Miami Heat brings the ball up the court against the Toronto Raptors during Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals of the 2016 NBA Playoffs at American Airlines Arena on May 13, 2016 in Miami, Florida. 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 Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
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Haven’t we seen this movie before?

Dwyane Wade has taken pay cuts in the past to help the Miami Heat land other players, but now is tired of that and wants to be made whole. The Miami Heat are in a tight financial spot this season, trying to retain free agents such as Hassan Whiteside while going after Kevin Durant. Wade is a free agent and wants what he sees as his due, too — if not from Miami then from someone else.

So Wade has opened bidding beyond just Miami, reports Brian Windhorst of ESPN.

Sources told ESPN.com that Wade’s representatives have made it known to multiple teams over the past several days that he will be on the market. Some teams have been skeptical, wondering whether Wade would seriously consider leaving the franchise where he has played 13 seasons and won three titles.

The Heat and Wade had several contentious weeks last year before they agreed on a one-year, $20 million deal for this past season.

PBT Podcast: Sean Deveney of Sporting News stops by for NBA free agency preview

OAKLAND, CA - MAY 30:  Kevin Durant #35 of the Oklahoma City Thunder stands on the court in Game Seven of the Western Conference Finals against the Golden State Warriors during the 2016 NBA Playoffs at ORACLE Arena on May 30, 2016 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 Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
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Friday starts the most unpredictable free agency period any of us have ever seen. There have been important, intense free agencies in recent years, but even when we were waiting for LeBron’s decisions we understood the basic structure and patterns of free agency.

Not this time around. Thanks to an unprecedented $24 million spike in the salary cap, we are just days away from the most unpredictable, head-scratching free agency in NBA history. It’s far more than just the summer of Kevin Durant.

Sean Deveney of The Sporting News stops by to break down free agency with Kurt Helin of NBC Sports. They talk Kevin Durant, Al Horford, Mike Conley, Hassan Whiteside, and the other big names available. Plus there are discussions of what teams from Golden State to Boston may do this summer.

As always, you can check out the podcast below, or listen and subscribe via iTunes, subscribe via the fantastic Stitcher app, or check out our new PBT podcast homepage and archive at Audioboom.com.