Amid the flurry of speculation around what the Celtics might do in the coming weeks to improve a team that went to the NBA’s Eastern Conference finals for the third time in four years last season, one player stands out for both the ease with which Boston could make his return a reality and the known good fit he would provide: center Aron Baynes.
And Baynes, who spent last season with the Suns, had a few things to say about his impending free agency. While he was noncommittal, he did give ESPN some insight worthy of note in an interview this week. Here’s what he said:
Everything’s so fluid right now. That’s why you’ve got to lean on people you trust. For me, it’s my agent, and I know that’s the business side of basketball. I’ve been through it too many times to tie anything emotional to it, as much as you want to. You do have these connections throughout basketball and throughout the teams you’ve played for and where you’ve gone and also the outlook for your family. Everything weighs in to it.
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It is hardly a secret that Baynes was well-liked during his time in Boston, from 2017-19, and that he very much enjoyed playing for the team. He was a critical part of the Celtics’ run to the conference finals in 2018, when they lost to the Cavaliers in seven games. When he points out, “connections throughout basketball and throughout the teams you’ve played for,” he is almost certainly talking about the Celtics.
Will Aron Baynes Choose Career Happiness or Financial Security?
But it is the second part of that quote that could douse the enthusiasm for a Baynes return. He is coming off his most productive NBA season in his time with the Suns, averaging 11.5 points and 5.6 rebounds, making 35.1% of his 3-pointers on 4.1 attempts per game—all of which were career highs. He certainly could look to cash in on his production, but at age 34 (next month) and with limited cap space available before next year gets going, he’s not likely to break anyone’s bank.
Still, he probably can get more on the market, including by staying in Phoenix, than what Boston will have to offer, depending on how other situations (most notably, that of forward Gordon Hayward) play out. Baynes is likely worth something in the range of the mid-level exception (more than $9 million per year) but the Celtics can’t afford that unless Hayward opts out.
When Baynes references “the outlook for your family,” that is what he means—should he give up on getting the most financial security possible for his family so that he can return to a great personal situation in Boston?
Aron Baynes Would Be an Ideal Fit With the Celtics
There is no doubt that the personal situation in Boston is ideal for Baynes. Though Daniel Theis handled the starting role at center well last season, he is 6-8 and better suited to a backup role. A Baynes-Theis combo at center, with Robert Williams getting minutes, too, would be a big improvement.
Baynes was traded by the Celtics last summer to make room for the signing of point guard Kemba Walker. While Baynes expressed no hard feelings over the deal, players lamented his absence last season.
In November, before the Celtics faced the Suns, Jaylen Brown told reporters, “Baynes, that’s my guy. He’s crazy as hell, but yeah, I’m excited to see him, make sure I give him a big hug.”
Last week, Jayson Tatum caused a stir when he posted a photo of himself on an old team flight with Baynes waving in the background—a subtle form of free-agent recruiting, perhaps.
Among fans and players, there is hope of a Baynes reunion. Maybe Baynes, in his heart, would like that, too. But he made it clear his choice in free agency would not be a decision made with his heart.
“At the end of the day, it’s a business decision,” Baynes said, “and we aren’t even sure how that business is panning out right now, so hopefully it’s for the best. It’s what I’ll be leaning on the agent for. Whatever we do, we’ll try to make the best decision for myself, for my family and everyone who’s helped me get to this point.”
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