NBA trade deadline preview: Suns C Aron Baynes unlikely to move
With the NBA trade deadline less than a month away, Empire of the Suns examines who could potentially be in play for the Phoenix Suns.
We started at Tyler Johnson, the biggest contract Phoenix has to work with if it wants to get involved in a big-money deal. Now, we take a peek at the expiring contract of one of the Suns’ leaders, who began the year as one of the NBA’s biggest surprises before leveling off: Aron Baynes.
2019-20 salary: $5.5 million (expiring, unrestricted free agent)
Age: 33 years old
Averages: 12.5 PPG, 6.0 RPG, 2.0 APG, 0.6 BPG (24.1 MPG)
50 FG%, 35% 3FG% (4.1 three-point attempts per game)
It’s important to remind you that Baynes was splitting minutes with out-of-the-NBA center Andrew Bogut for Australia in the FIBA World Cup this past summer. Suns fans probably don’t remember he played just 10 minutes and picked up four fouls in a season-opening win over the Sacramento Kings before he was forced into the starting lineup with Deandre Ayton’s 25-game suspension thereafter.
Then, Baynes made his white-hot three-point shooting and involved passing stand out in October and November. He was canning 44% of his threes in the first two months, but that’s fallen off to below 30% in December and January. Teams are understanding that they can attack him in pick-and-rolls, where his athleticism can’t keep up with his preparedness.
His minutes haven’t dipped below 20 in any game since mid-December, and most recently his extended playing time has left him more vulnerable as he’s started at power forward alongside Ayton. Head coach Monty Williams suggested Wednesday he might turn away from using the centers together as starters.
The Suns value Baynes’ place in the rotation, either way. They also have labeled him one of three leaders on the team alongside Devin Booker and Ricky Rubio.
Let us guess based on fit alone, because there haven’t been any direct reports of trade talks involving Baynes to this point.
Out west, the Los Angeles Clippers have been thrown about by Bleacher Report’s Eric Pincus and The Athletic’s Sam Vecenie as a potential suitor. Baynes would bring spice to a bench that already has a strong personality. He could be traded straight up for starting center Ivica Zubac, whose contract runs through 2021-22 with a team option in 2022-23.
Zubac, 22, has produced in the box scores but hasn’t done enough to earn many more minutes after starting games for head coach Doc Rivers. Do they want more out of that position?
The Rockets don’t seem like a great fit for Baynes, but his floor-spacing would theoretically allow James Harden and Russell Westbrook to operate on offense. However, Houston doesn’t really need Baynes unless GM Daryl Morey is worried Clint Capela alone can’t match up in a playoff series with bigger teams like Denver and the Los Angeles Lakers.
Maybe the Pacers want to make their playoff push with even more of a shot in the arm alongside Victor Oladipo’s expected return at the end of January. Baynes would immediately leap rookie Goga Bitadze as the third true big behind Myles Turner and Domantas Sabonis, and boy wouldn’t he fit in for head coach Nate McMillan. That’s the ideal third-big-man role Baynes could thrive in at 15-20 minutes per night. Again, it matters if the Pacers are worried about potentially running into a team like the Philadelphia 76ers, who have talented bigs Joel Embiid and Al Horford, in the playoffs.
Those situations all fall into the category of playoff teams locking in a ninth or 10th man off the bench, so there probably won’t be much trade value coming back to Phoenix under those circumstances. If there is a team desperate enough, Baynes’ $5.5 million contract is easy to move.
Why the Suns should or shouldn’t move him
It would feel too much like a Ryan McDonough move and too out of character for current GM James Jones to trade Baynes this year.
Baynes’ slippage in production after wowing analytic models through his first month of play was expected, and it probably confirms to teams that they should not give away an asset for half a year of an over-the-hill big man, even if his three-point shooting comes back and a more limited role leads to more effective play. All that considered, what would Baynes bring back in a trade to Phoenix other than a late-first- or second-round pick?
If the Suns want to get a better look at Cheick Diallo as a backup center and Frank Kaminsky is able to return at some point from a stress fracture in his knee, maybe trading Baynes makes sense.
It would be considerate toward the future to collect an asset for a player who might not return, too.
Counter to that, though, it would not be considerate to the team at hand.
Remember that Devin Booker loves Baynes’ screens, and Jones has operated like he doesn’t view players as assets over people first. As much sense as it makes to get something for Baynes if the Suns don’t view him as a long-term backup center, there’s good reason to keep him and see 2019-20 through.
In the end, the Suns might truly view Baynes as an affordable long-term backup to Ayton. At present, it’s clear the Suns value his voice in the locker room and his low maintenance attitude. It just doesn’t make a lot of sense to trade Baynes unless Phoenix finds itself out of the playoff race by mid-February and another team offers a first-round pick or controllable young player in return, all unlikely scenarios.