On the back of an excellent FIBA World Cup campaign with the Australian national team, Aron Baynes rolled on to produce the best season of his NBA career with the Phoenix Suns in 2019-20.
Averaging career-highs of 11.5 points and 5.6 rebounds in 22.1 minutes per game, Baynes continued his transformation from inside workhorse on offence to a legitimate outside threat. Connecting on 35 percent of his 4.0 long range attempts per game, the 33-year-old produced some monster performances including a career-best 37-point, 16-rebound outburst against the Portland Trail Blazers just days prior to the season shutdown.
Relegated to the bench once Deandre Ayton returned from a league suspension, Baynes continued to thrive on a rising Suns squad.
Defensive minded big men who can shoot from the outside are a hot commodity around the league, so let's take a look at a few possible destinations for Baynes in free agency.
Unfortunately for Baynes, an extended recovery from coronavirus followed by knee issues meant he failed to see the floor during Phoenix's remarkable 8-0 bubble run.
The Suns are locked and loaded at the five with Ayton in the starting group, meaning Baynes will be relegated to a reserve role on a fringe playoff team.
The question that will need to be answered is whether the current situation in Phoenix fits the career trajectory that Baynes will want to follow in his NBA twilight. While the opportunity with the Suns provided him the best individual season of his career, they are not expected to contend for the 2021 title, and with his 34th birthday right around the corner, father time may dictate his desire to join a true contender.
Phoenix would no doubt love to retain the services of Baynes, who has a strong reputation as an excellent locker room veteran and leader on and off the floor, but with the following teams potentially lurking, it could be out of the franchise's hands.
Los Angeles Lakers
Following their championship run, the Lakers look set to continue to add to their roster in search of back-to-back titles.
While the combination of Dwight Howard and JaVale McGee provided serviceable contributions for Los Angeles, the future of both is unclear with Howard (free agent) and McGee (player option) no certainty to return next season.
The Athletic reported earlier this week that the Golden State Warriors may have interest in Howard, who averaged 18 minutes per game across 69 appearances this season.
Baynes not only fits the description of the defensive identity of the Lakers, but his floor spacing would be a further addition that neither Howard nor McGee can provide.
Frank Vogel moved away from a traditional five in stretches during the postseason, and without question their most dominant lineup pits Davis as the "small ball" big man, but the Lakers will still need a big bruising body in potential playoff matchups against Nikola Jokic in the West and Joel Embiid or Brook Lopez in the East.
Already with one ring in his collection, there would hardly be a better opportunity to add a second if the Lakers were to come knocking.
All season long a lack of size loomed as a potential thorn in the side of the Celtics.
Losing key pieces in Al Horford and Baynes during the offseason, Brad Stevens relied on the impressive Daniel Theis and backup Enes Kanter to log the majority of minutes at the five.
While Theis continues to develop, Bam Adebayo physically dominated him at times during the Eastern Conference Finals. To boot, Embiid plus Giannis Antetokounmpo still loom as potential postseason road bumps in 2021.
While Embiid's effort levels appear to fluctuate on a nightly basis, a 38-point, 13-rebound domination of Boston back in December was a quiet reminder of the Celtics' inability to slow him down when engaged. As for Antetokounmpo, all he did was average 30.0 points, 15.3 rebounds and 6.3 assists across three games against Boston in 2020.
According to Jared Weiss and Jay King of The Athletic, Kanter is likely to opt out of a $5 million dollar player option, giving the Celtics further need to bolster the big man stocks behind Theis and the developing Robert Williams.
Baynes was a fan favourite at TD Garden and a reunion next season makes a lot of sense.
Could Baynes make his way north of the border to Canada?
Possibly, but it will ultimately come down to whether or not the Raptors come to an agreement with free agent big man and championship player, Serge Ibaka.
With the future of Ibaka and Marc Gasol unclear, the Raptors may find themselves in need of a player like Baynes.
While Toronto's ability to truly contend in 2021 is uncertain, if the franchise can't come to an agreement with one or both of the aforementioned, a door could open for Baynes to slot into Nick Nurse's rotation.
Golden State Warriors - The Warriors have a history of signing low cost big men to run the floor with their all-world backcourt. With Baynes now connecting from the outside at a respectable clip, there is certainly a chance that Steve Kerr would like the fit.
Portland Trail Blazers - Hassan Whiteside is a pending free agent, potentially leaving the Blazers with some minutes to spare at the five. With the injury history of Jusuf Nurkic and Zach Collins, Portland could certainly see some value in adding Baynes to the locker room.
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