An unrestricted free agent this offseason, former San Antonio Spurs center Aron Baynes could bring some much-needed grit to the River City.
Drastic changes are being made up and down the San Antonio Spurs roster. As the youth movement takes full effect, the team will still need some veterans to lean on when the going gets tough. This off-season could be the perfect opportunity for San Antonio to reunite with center Aron Baynes.
The Australian big man made his debut in the NBA with the San Antonio Spurs back in 2013. He provided some muscle for a Spurs group in pursuit of NBA Finals appearances in 2013 and 2014. Although many fans will remember a young Baynes being thwarted by Blake Griffin in the 2015 NBA Playoffs, the 33-year-old has learned a lot since then.
Playing in an expanded role with the Phoenix Suns, Baynes averaged 11.5 points and 5.6 rebounds in 22.2 minutes per game this season. Not only did he take a career-high 9.1 shots per contest, but he also expanded his range. On four attempts per game, Baynes hit 35.1% of his 3-pointers this year. It was a revelation for an upstart Suns team that made a splash inside the Orlando bubble.
Early in the season, Baynes filled in as the starting center for the Suns. Former No. 1 pick Deandre Ayton was suspended for 25 games early in the season, leaving a major gap for Baynes to fill. In that span, Baynes proved to the world that he is worthy of a starting position in the league. Unfortunately, there aren’t many teams that can offer him one.
Enter the San Antonio Spurs: a team amidst an unlikely rebuild on the fly hoping to compete while handing the reins to a young core. Just as he provided veteran mentorship in Phoenix, San Antonio would benefit from having the big man in a role off the bench.
Next: The Spurs' side
Why would the San Antonio Spurs welcome Baynes back?
History and culture are very important to the San Antonio Spurs franchise. It’s made them the most successful regular season team since the inception of the franchise with a better winning percentage than any organization. There aren’t very many players left from the Spurs’ 2014 championship team who can actually contribute if given minutes.
Baynes knows what it’s like to play for Gregg Popovich, which provides value in and of itself. Many players aren’t up for the task, but Baynes blossomed under Pop’s guidance. Likewise, the Spurs could use more of an interior presence that isn’t afraid to get physical. Whereas backup center Jakob Poeltl may be the more physically imposing player, he’s a bit soft. Playing on the inside requires a level of grittiness, strength and stamina that Poeltl isn’t always willing to give.
Consider your favorite heist movie — Everybody plays a role. There’s usually a strategist, someone technologically inclined, a leader and the muscle. This is basic roster construction, which applies to team-building in professional sports. You don’t want to have too much overlap with your players’ skill sets because they become redundant. Baynes, the muscle, is known for being an enforcer who isn’t afraid to match up against any opponent.
Poeltl is also a restricted free agent going into this off-season. It would not be surprising if teams in need of a starting center offered him a contract that San Antonio cannot match. If that ends up being the case, there will be a hole for the Spurs to fill.
Baynes probably won’t cost much more than the mid-level exception, which is about all the Spurs can’t afford to spend assuming DeMar DeRozan opts into his contract. Even if it’s only on a one year deal, the transition would not be as difficult as it could become for other free agent targets.
Next: Baynes' side
Why would Aron Baynes return to the San Antonio Spurs?
Returning to San Antonio would bring Baynes’ NBA career full circle. He hasn’t been in the league for too long, so it’s easy to forget that he’s already 33. Chances are, he doesn’t have that many years left in the tank. At this point, being a journeyman and chasing contracts is probably the way to go.
This doesn’t necessarily apply if Phoenix decides to give him a lucrative extension. Still, they may look to use their limited cap space elsewhere. The Suns are expected to make a play at retaining Baynes, but general manager James Jones is a bit of a wild card. After such a promising performance in the Orlando restart, it wouldn’t be hard to see the suns go all-in on a playoff run next year.
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In returning to San Antonio, Baynes won’t need to carry as heavy a workload. He’ll play a role similar to what he did this year with a familiar franchise where he gets to spend time with old and new friends. Assistant coach Tim Duncan had a good relationship with Baynes, as does his Australian National team running mate Patty Mills, who remains under contract with the spurs through next season.
When playing for the Spurs, you can expect a family environment. The team takes care of its players and prioritizes the people over all else. This isn’t a quality that you get with many other professional sports organizations. It’s one of the many perks of being a part of San Antonio‘s culture.
In an off-season like no other, stability and familiarity will certainly play a part in every decision. Considering the financial ramifications of the pandemic, it’s not likely that teams will be willing to pay him the contract he will seek. If he doesn’t get that deal from Phoenix, it’s most likely going to be a mid-level exception. If the payout is all the same, returning to familiar territory with the organization that brought you into the NBA seems like a no brainer.
This may not be the same group that he played within his first stint with the team, but it’s the same family. Just as they did when he was a rookie, the San Antonio Spurs will do everything in their power to put Baynes in a position to succeed.