Last summer, in the heat of NBA free agency, to make room for the arrival of Kemba Walker in a sign-and-trade from Charlotte, the Celtics had to make an unwelcome transaction: They dealt away center Aron Baynes to the Suns, moving him with draft pick Ty Jerome for a pick in this year’s draft.
Baynes had been a key contributor off the bench and had developed a bond with his teammates in two seasons with the Celtics. According to MassLive.com, Jaylen Brown called him, “crazy as hell,” last year but said that when the Celtics played Phoenix, he was eager to give Baynes, “a big hug.”
Boston did what it could to slap together a center rotation, mostly using Daniel Theis but also using Enes Kanter, Robert Williams and rookie Grant Williams. Theis handled himself well but was often undersize and did not provide the kind of rim protection the team was lacking. Center was a weak spot for most of the season.
Former Celtics star and radio color analyst Cedric Maxwell has a simple solution, offered on the Toucher and Rich show on 98.5 FM in Boston (via CelticsWire):
If I had my crystal ball, and I could pick out one guy who really changed what this team has done — and I’m not sure if he’s under contract or not, so it’s not be tampering — but Aron Baynes would have been really a good roadblock in the paint and some toughness that sometimes I don’t think the Celtics really had.
Celtics Have a Roster Logjam at Center
Baynes had signed a two-year, $10 million deal with the Celtics in 2018 and exercised his player option last offseason before the Celtics traded him. He liked Boston and did not want to be traded, and though he has expressed no bitterness to the franchise for having dealt him away after he opted in, the fact that the Celtics did not treat him well might be an obstacle to re-signing him this year.
Baynes is a free agent and figures to command a contract in the mid-level range. He had his best season with the Suns, averaging 11.5 points and 5.6 rebounds in 42 games, playing 22.2 minutes per game.
The problem with getting him back to Boston is that there would likely have to be a trade. Though the Celtics did not have a standout center, they have a fleet of fair-to-decent big men under contract.
The team has an option on Theis at $5 million, and it would be difficult to let him go, even if he is not the starter next year. Theis has proven to be a versatile and reliable big guy.
The Celtics also might have Kanter back. He has a player option worth $5 million and is expected to pick it up. Robert Williams ($2 million) and Grant Williams ($2.5 million) will still be on their rookie scale contracts, and Vincent Poirier’s is signed on for next year, too, at $2.6 million. The team has also committed to bringing back Tacko Fall, though he will be a restricted free agent and could be let go.
That’s six centers. The ranks would need to be thinned out before the Celtics make a move for Baynes.
Aron Baynes Would Bring Improved 3-Pointer to Celtics
If Boston could unload, say, Robert Williams and Poirier, there could be room for another big man, especially because Grant Williams can be a forward, too. Kanter could also opt out or be traded.
That would create room for Baynes, who can be a tough presence inside with more size (he is 6-foot-10) than Theis (who is 6-foot-8). Baynes has also honed his 3-point shot, a project he began in his first season with Boston. In fact, last year with the Suns, 4.0 of the 9.1 shots he attempted were 3-pointers. He made 35.1% of them.
“This team was a finesse team,” Maxwell said of the Celtics, “and when it came down to power basketball, I think that’s when teams just really took them to the woodshed.”