Aron Baynes’ addition to the Phoenix Suns has been well-received and loved by fans. But with a career year and an expiring contract, it’s time to gain an asset for him or let him walk.
The red-bearded big man, with a physicality and tenacity rivaled only by the Incredible Hulk, has quickly become a fan favorite. And why not? He’s a brick wall that shoots the three ball. He’s not afraid to step in front of an oncoming locomotive and take a charge. He saved the Phoenix Suns when DeAndre Ayton was forced to the sideline with a suspension. And he did it all with an Australian accent.
If the Suns want to maximize their potential, however, it is time to say, “Good bye”.
I recently found myself re-watching the classic poker movie Rounders (thank you, Netflix). The John Dahl-directed film features Matt Damon as Mike McD, a guy who put it all in the middle at Texas Hold ‘Em and loses, tries to give poker up, only to find himself helping out an old friend (“Worm”, played fantastically by Ed Norton) get out of debt by playing cards again.
As he scratches and claws to gain $15,000 to get Worm out of debt, he makes one poignant statement:
“I told Worm you can’t lose what you don’t put in the middle. But you can’t win much either.”
The time has come to put Aron Baynes in the middle.
Doing so will allow the Suns to gain an asset and improve the team. The improvement may be immediate if the correct asset is acquired, or it may be something that pays off further down the line. Regardless of when the impact will be felt, dealing Baynes is a must. Why? Because his value will never be higher.
Aron Baynes has lived his career coming off the bench. Prior to this season, of the 427 games he played in, he started just 109 of them. The majority of those starts came in the 2017-18 season for the Boston Celtics. This is was the season in which Gordon Hayward provided us with one of the nastiest opening night injuries in recent memory. That catastrophic injury left Boston scrambling with their lineups, trying to piece together a winner. That scrambling allowed Aron to get the most playing time of his career.
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Baynes’ exposure led Boston to trade him to the Phoenix Suns. Why? Because they knew that due to his efforts, at the end of the 2019-20 season, they would not be able to retain him. So rather than simply let him walk away, they obtained a 2020 1st round pick from Phoenix, top 7 protected.
This is the same mentality Phoenix must use now when approaching the Baynes situation. The Australian is averaging career highs in minutes, points, 3s (made and attempted), rebounds, and assists. At 33 years of age, he is having the best year of his life. His opportunity to get one last big contract is on the horizon.
Remember Richaun Holmes? You know, the hustling backup center who electrified Talking Stick Resort Arena with his hustle and grit last season? Holmes was an asset who played with effort and desire, and when the season was finished, he walked away. He now received thunderous applause from the crowds in Sacramento. He even receives “M-V-P” chants while he stands at the free throw line. He is loved and cherished in Sac Town for the same reasons we loved him, and for the same reasons we love Baynes.
But again I come to what Mike McD said in Rounders as Teddy KGB goaded him into one last Texas Hold ‘Em battle:
“You can’t lose what you don’t put in the middle. But you can’t win much either.”
Not losing Baynes this season means the Suns will still have a solid backup to Ayton. (and backup he should be. Please stop starting him. Anything over 18 minutes a game and he becomes fragile. He’s too willing to take a charge for the team and ends up hurt because of it.) At the end of the season, however, he will walk. The Suns will receive nothing for him.
If the Suns put Baynes in the middle, take a chance, and acquire an asset for him, it could help the team win in the long term. There are plenty of top tier playoff teams in need of a physical big man. Perhaps sending him to the Clippers for Ivaca Zubac (who has 3 more years on his contract, the last being a team option) is a great move. Whatever the transaction is, it needs to occur.
Sell high while you can. Baynes, who shot 36.2% from downtown during Ayton’s absence, has shot 22.7% since. Heck, he shouldn’t be shooting 3s anyways. His stock is beginning to fall. His play includes nearly as many fouls as it does rebounds. It won’t be long before the rest of the league notices his mid-season decline. If they do, the Suns will get pennies on the dollar if they try to move him.
Time to shuffle the deck, ante up, and go all in with Baynes. Check?