A few facts about Aron Baynes:
- He plays for the Phoenix Suns, who are 18-26 and 11th in the West, with a -0.9 net rating and, per Tankathon.com, the toughest remaining schedule in the league.
- He is 33 years old.
- He is on a $5.5 million expiring contract.
- He plays center, as does the Suns' Deandre Ayton, the No. 1 pick in the 2018 NBA Draft.
- He has a magnificent beard.
The first four bullet points make him a according to Marc Stein of the New York Times, Phoenix could move him before the Feb. 6 trade deadline. If the price isn't outrageous, then everybody -- or at least everybody who isn't logjammed at center and cares about competing -- should be trying to pry him away., and,
Baynes has cooled off after posting superstar numbers early in the season, and if he misses Friday's game against the San Antonio Spurs, it will be his third straight absence because of a hip injury. There are few available role players, however, who consistently help teams as much as he does while taking so little off the table.
Known for most of his career as a bruiser, Baynes has always set crushing screens and provided physicality in the paint. He doesn't post crazy individual rebounding numbers, but every season his team allows fewer offensive boards when he is on the court, which was particularly interesting when he was teammates with Andre Drummond. In his 30s, Baynes has expanded his game, first giving the Boston Celtics some totally unexpected spacing by launching 3s in the 2018 playoffs, then increasing his 3-point volume and showing this season that he can be a high-post facilitator.
Baynes is one of the league's strongest players, so he can still be a bit of a bully. His true value, however, is that he gives a team structure on both ends. He's a smart pick-and-roll defender, a renowned communicator and the rare center who is equally effective taking charges and protecting the rim with verticality. He frees shooters with his screens, and while he doesn't need the ball in his hands, it is a good idea to let him run dribble-handoffs. It took no time to see that Devin Booker had , and Brad Stevens recently raved about Baynes' work ethic and said the Celtics miss him.
(If Boston were not barred from trading for him -- unless Phoenix trades him somewhere else first -- then a reunion would make a lot of sense.)
Baynes has been so good for Phoenix that coach Monty Williams has experimented with starting him and Ayton and tried bringing Ayton off the bench. There is an argument that, even if the Suns think they'll lose him for nothing in the summer, it is worth keeping him for the next few months simply so the players don't feel like the organization is punting on the rest of the season. As unimpressive as their record is, they are only 2.5 games back of the eighth-place Spurs.
If Phoenix takes the long view, though, here are five of many potential trade partners:
- Imagine the Los Angeles Clippers with Baynes anchoring the defense as Kawhi Leonard, Paul George and Patrick Beverley prowl the perimeter. I thought last season's Toronto Raptors and this season's Philadelphia 76ers had the most defensive upside I'd ever seen, but this might be even scarier. Los Angeles hardly has any future picks to send to the Suns, but I wonder how they value Mfiondu Kabengele, Jerome Robinson and Terance Mann. (Ivica Zubac could also be expendable if the Clippers think they can re-sign Baynes and Montrezl Harrell.)
- The Utah Jazz would have 48 minutes of elite interior defense if they made a move for Baynes. Their plan was to roll with Ed Davis as Rudy Gobert's backup, but Davis broke his leg earlier this season, hasn't looked comfortable in Quin Snyder's offense and is out of the rotation. As high as they might be on Tony Bradley, Baynes would surely increase their championship odds. Utah suddenly has a glut of playmakers, so perhaps Jordan Clarkson or Emmanuel Mudiay (who has quietly played the best basketball of his career this season) could be part of a trade.
- Dallas Mavericks center Dwight Powell just tore his Achilles, and they are reportedly interested in Joakim Noah. They don't necessarily need to add anybody -- Kristaps Porzingis and Maxi Kleber can play most of the minutes, with Boban Marjanovic serving as a situational matchup nightmare -- but Baynes would make them more formidable, especially because they could play so much 5-out offense. The Mavs have some extra second-round picks at their disposal, and maybe they'd be willing to part with Delon Wright or Jalen Brunson.
- The Portland Trail Blazers desperately need defensive help, and they've missed Jusuf Nurkic's screen-setting and passing. Their guards would love playing with Baynes. Getting him would be complicated because they have Hassan Whiteside on the roster, they won't want to trade a first-round pick and they owe a bunch of seconds. Maybe Phoenix loves Nassir Little, though.
- Here's a curveball: Baynes would fit nicely in Steve Kerr's offense when the Golden State Warriors are going for it next season, and the best way to make that happen is probably to acquire his bird rights now. They're hard-capped and already owe a bunch of picks, but some creativity might be worth it here.