A look inside the process that sent Gordon Hayward to Boston

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Ricky Rubio flew halfway around the world to help Utah make its sales pitch. Miami had the red carpet rolled out, with plenty of staff and players around to do some wooing.

The Jazz and Heat made Gordon Hayward waver.

But Brad Stevens won the Hayward recruiting battle – again.

In 2007, Stevens talked Hayward into signing a letter of intent to play college basketball at Butler. A decade later, Stevens talked Hayward into taking a four-year, $128 million contract to join a Boston Celtics team that went to the Eastern Conference finals last season and thinks it should be better now for years to come.

So Stevens and Hayward reunite, coach and player, after their two seasons at Butler nearly delivered an NCAA title.

“This has been the toughest decision that I’ve ever had to make in my life,” Hayward wrote in his post on The Players’ Tribune announcing his decision on Tuesday night.

The Celtics took Hayward to Fenway Park on Sunday and talked to him about both the past and the future, Boston’s legacy in sports, the magical years led by Bill Russell and Larry Bird and Paul Pierce, and belief that a young core led by Isaiah Thomas is only going to keep getting better. The Red Sox were playing on the road that day, yet whatever Hayward felt visiting that baseball shrine clearly resonated.

And it should be noted that in a city that worships Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, Hayward is on record saying he’s not a fan.

Maybe in time, that’ll change.

“There were so many great things pulling me in that direction,” Hayward wrote. “There was the winning culture of Boston, as a city – from the Sox, to the Pats, to the Bruins.”

Hayward’s three-day whirlwind tour started in Miami on Saturday, a day filled with players-only meetings in the lounge off the Heat locker room, examples of how players’ families – especially their kids – have their needs accommodated on game nights, even some discussions about the Miami real estate market.

Some chatted about tennis, a sport Hayward loves and one that gets plenty of attention in South Florida each spring when the Miami Open brings the world’s best players to Key Biscayne. And team president Pat Riley, coach Erik Spoelstra and others showed Hayward what they were thinking of what the 2017-18 Heat would look like with a new All-Star small forward.

Next came the trip to Boston, and then finally a flight back to San Diego for a meeting with a Jazz contingent that included owner Gail Miller, team president Steve Starks, GM Dennis Lindsey and coach Quin Snyder. They pitched Hayward on how they made moves via trade and free agency to surround him with the best possible mix of talent that would put the Jazz in position to contend in the powerful Western Conference for years to come.

At the conclusion of the meeting, the Jazz surprised Hayward with a visit from teammates Rudy Gobert, Rodney Hood, Joe Ingles and Rubio – the newly acquired guard that Hayward has raved about for some time and who flew in from Spain just for the meeting with hopes that it would be a splash. Much like in Miami, the players met with Hayward privately to talk about what the Jazz could be like going forward.

“My meetings with all three teams during this process – Miami, Boston and Utah – were just unbelievable,” Hayward said. “They couldn’t have been more impressive. Each meeting left me convinced that the team I’d just met with was the right fit. ”

He found Butler to be the right fit in 2007.

He found Boston to be the right fit in 2017.

Those briefed on the Heat and Jazz meetings said both teams left feeling they made extremely strong cases. In the end, Hayward’s history with Stevens seemed to win out.

“Again, Coach Stevens and I found ourselves at a crossroads together,” Hayward wrote. “And again, he was the person I knew I could count on the most.”

Shaq donates a year’s rent to a paralyzed Atlanta boy

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ATLANTA (AP) — Basketball Hall of Famer Shaquille O’Neal has donated a year’s rent in a new home to an Atlanta woman whose 12-year-old son was paralyzed in a shooting at a football game.

O’Neal tells WXIA-TV  that Isaiah Payton’s family had been living in a one-bedroom apartment that wasn’t accessible for people with disabilities.

“It’s just sad. It could have been any one of us,” Shaq told the Atlanta station. “It could have been my son. It could’ve been your cousin. She was living in a one-bedroom apartment with her two boys, so we found her a house in a nice area.”

Now they have a home in a good neighborhood. He says he’s helping furnish the home and will pay its rent for the next year.

Isaiah was shot through the spine in August after a football scrimmage between two high schools. Sixteen-year-old Damean Spear also was wounded and treated for minor injuries. Isaiah’s mother, Allison Woods, has said relearning how to care for Isaiah meant she had to leave her job, adding financial stress to her emotional turmoil.

Jazz reportedly extend contract of coach Quin Snyder, locking him down well into future

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Quin Snyder has evolved into one of the best coaches in the NBA (and my pick to win Coach of the Year this season). He’s built a development program and system in Utah that has turned Rudy Gobert into a two-time Defensive Player of the Year, Donovan Mitchell into the face of a franchise, and Joe Ingles into a guy other teams covet. His players like and respect Snyder, and he has worked well with the front office of Dennis Lindsey and Justin Zanik.

So the Jazz are locking him up with a contract extension beyond the two seasons remaining on his deal. Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN broke the news.

Utah Jazz coach Quin Snyder has agreed to a long-term contract extension, league sources tell ESPN. Snyder had two years left on his deal, and a new contract extends multiple years beyond that term, sources said.

After upgrading the team’s talent base over the summer, locking Snyder into an extension had been a top organizational priority.

Jazz fans should be ecstatic about this.

Snyder has built a system team in Utah, one that moves the ball beautifully on offense, and that has been tough to defend in the regular season, with the Jazz winning 50 games last season. Utah has made it to the second round of the playoffs the past two seasons, but when the level of play made that leap a lot of the system gets taken away by good defenses, and the Utah offense became Donovan Mitchell against the world. It didn’t work, Mitchell (still just 22) wasn’t fully ready and there was not enough shooting around him.

This past summer, the Jazz added Mike Conley at point guard and Bojan Bogdanovic on the wing, two excellent shooters who also can create off the dribble. Expectations are high in Utah.

Whatever happens, Snyder is their coach now for a long time.

Giannis Antetokounmpo says he learned from Kawhi Leonard: “He was calm”

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Milwaukee was up 2-0 in last season’s Eastern Conference Finals on Toronto, having won those games by an average of 15 points. Giannis Antetokounmpo had scored 54 points, pulled down 31 rebounds, dished out 11 assists, and was looking every bit the MVP.

Then the games shifted to Toronto, Kawhi Leonard took over — including guarding Antetokounmpo more — and the Raptors rattled off four straight wins to take the series on their way to the NBA title. The Greek Freak still averaged 20.4 points a night in those final four games, but the buckets were much harder to come by.

Milwaukee returns this season as the Eastern Conference favorites and legit title contenders, in part because of what they learned from that loss. Antetokounmpo told Vincent Goodwill of Yahoo Sports he learned a lot directly from Leonard in that series.

“I learned a lot from him,” Antetokounmpo said. “He knocked down free throws. He was calm. When double-teams came, he was swinging the ball but getting it right back. He was aggressive. He was calm but he was on a mission.”

Leonard is the living embodiment of the old John Wooden axiom “be quick, don’t hurry.” He’s not rushed, he’s rarely forced into shots he doesn’t want to take or plays he doesn’t want to make.  That’s true of all champions on some level. LeBron James, Kobe Bryant, Tim Duncan all bring an inner calm.

If Antetokounmpo brings that to his game, the Bucks are one big step closer to a title.

Domantas Sabonis on trade rumors: ‘I know exactly how the Pacers feel about me now’

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The Indiana Pacers have started to explore the trade market for Domantas Sabonis. There are logical reasons for this: Sabonis is good (he was second in Sixth Man of the Year voting last season), yet he and the Pacers are nowhere near agreement on a contract extension, and the Pacers already paid big money for Myles Turner to be their center, how much do they want to pay Sabonis, too?

That’s sound logic if you’re in the Pacers’ front office.

If you’re Sabonis, it can feel like a slap in the face to a guy who put in a lot of sweat and passion for the franchise. That’s what Sabonis sounded like in this quote, via Scott Agnes of The Athletic.

The Pacers are not talking about the report, which started with the well connected and reliable Sam Amick at The Athletic.

Pacers’ brass needs to talk about this with Sabonis (and likely already have, behind closed doors). If the Pacers trade him, it’s likely not until after Dec. 15 at the earliest (when most players signed this summer can be included in a deal) and probably closer to the February trade deadline. That’s a lot of season to play out, and Sabonis remains a vital part of the Indiana rotation.

There is likely to be a lot of interest in Sabonis on the market. However, because he’s a center (a position teams are careful not to overspend on in today’s market) and in the last year of his rookie deal — meaning he becomes a restricted free agent next summer and gets more expensive — teams are not going to overpay for him. Right now the Pacers are asking for too much and interested teams are lowballing their offers. The sides will meet in the middle.

That middle could shift if Sabonis has a rough start to the season. Both sides need him to play well and feel comfortable, whatever is going on with the business side of his contract.