Celtics will be all about roundball in Hayward pitch

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WALTHAM, Mass. - As the Boston Celtics prepared to host Gordon Hayward on a free-agent visit on Sunday, those with knowledge of the team's planned presentation suggested it would be an understated display with a focus on showcasing why Boston is the best possible spot for Hayward to reach his basketball goals.

Celtics coach Brad Stevens, who coached Hayward for two seasons at Butler University, is expected to lead a film session in which he'll spotlight the ways Boston can utilize Hayward's talents. Boston brass are expecting key members of their core, including All-Star point guard Isaiah Thomas, to be in attendance for the pitch as well.

Images of Hayward Photoshopped in a Heat uniform circulated on social media Saturday after being spotted outside AmericanAirlines Arena. The only banners the Celtics plan to spotlight are the 17 championship flags that both ring the wall at the team's practice facility and hang in the rafters at TD Garden.

The Celtics will lean on technology, including iPads loaded with game film that will show Hayward how he fits into the team's style of play. Stevens often engages in film sessions with potential draftees as they visit, and he will try to show Hayward how he can maximize the All-Star's skill set in Boston.

The Celtics, who spent nearly two decades over the salary cap before generating honest-to-goodness cap space last summer, had the opportunity to meet with two of last year's biggest free agents in Al Horford and Kevin Durant. Those experiences will help guide this year's pitch to Hayward.

Knowing Horford's basketball-focused personality, the Celtics centered their presentation on the team's potential and how Horford fits in on the court. The Celtics believe that Hayward will put a premium on seeing how Boston is set up for sustained future success. Stevens can offer firm details on how he would be utilized alongside the likes of Horford, Thomas and Boston's core.

Thomas, who had been vacationing with his family near San Diego this week, was expected to fly cross-country to be part of the presentation. The Boston Globe reported Saturday that Horford was in town for the pitch, as well. Some of Boston's younger players, such as Marcus Smart, have been at the team's facility this week working out alongside the Celtics' summer leaguers as they prepare to open summer action on Monday in Utah.

Coincidentally, Hayward is also expected to travel to Utah after Boston's pitch on Sunday to meet with the Utah Jazz on Monday.

The Celtics could always pull out a surprise or two. The team made headlines with their free-agent pitch to Kevin Durant last summer. Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge showed up in the Hamptons wearing Durant's signature shoes, and the team brought along New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady for the meeting.

A GIF of Hayward, an Indiana native and admitted Indianapolis Colts fan, saying he, "Can't stand Tom Brady" circulated on social media this week, so it's safe to say the Celtics won't be reaching out for Brady's help this time around. Stevens could call in a favor from Peyton Manning, but the team seems likely to keep the surprises to a minimum with its presentation.

The Celtics feel like they know what will resonate with Hayward, and that's why they'll keep the focus on the on-court product.

After agreeing to a four-year, $113 million contract with Boston last summer, Horford noted how Stevens, Boston's young core and the team's ability to contend long term resonated with him. Horford joined Boston after nine seasons in Atlanta and can tell Hayward why it's worth leaving the comfort of a familiar situation.

"Looking [at Boston], at what's ahead, the position that I see here, not only with the owners and the GM and Coach Stevens, I feel like they are heading there," Horford said at his introductory news conference last July. "I like the direction that I saw when I met with them. I felt comfortable. I felt confident in the potential and what can be. And I'm very encouraged by the group of players that are here. Lot of young, hard-working, talented players, and just playing in that series, I saw the passion that they played with and how much better they got as a team throughout the season. It's something that excites me to be a part of this."

The Celtics had been hoping to pursue a trade to land Paul George if they were able to earn Hayward's commitment after his visit. But that fizzled Friday when the Indiana Pacers dealt George to the Oklahoma City Thunder for a paltry return.

Boston had made two strong offers, one at February's trade deadline (four first-round picks, including what became the No. 1 pick) and again at last month's draft (three first-round picks and two starters), according to league sources. Instead, Indiana moved George for two players (Victor Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis) and no picks. Many in the Celtics organization appeared as perplexed as the rest of the league by Indy's decision.

The Celtics will likely use George's decision to point out how the road to the NBA Finals is much less daunting now in the East. As teams such as the Rockets and Thunder have loaded up in the West, the Celtics remain the top challenger to Cleveland in the East. Boston won 53 games last season and earned the No. 1 seed before bowing to the Cavaliers in five games in the conference finals.

After team brass make their basketball-focused presentation to Hayward, they're expected to whisk him and his wife, Robyn, off to dinner and show them around Boston.