Thanos scoured the universe in search of domination, consumed by the notion of balance. Eventually, he assembled the infinity gauntlet, and with it came unparalleled power. With one snap of his finger, the universe’s population was cut by half, and Thanos had achieved his goal.
This week, Danny Ainge is Thanos and the Celtics are his gauntlet, as the president of basketball operations looks to assemble his infinity stones on his quest for league domination. Ainge currently owns the All-Star stone, the franchise cornerstone stone, and the chemistry stone.
The final pieces are the veteran stone, the bench scoring stone, and the big man stone, and then the puzzle is complete. Just like Thanos, Ainge faces resistance in his quest for these all-powerful jewels, as teams around the league are wary of dealing with the Celtics GM.
Luckily for Ainge, there is a player who can fill the missing big-man piece in his gauntlet, floating in the vast emptiness of free agency, a player he knows all too well.
Fresh off an impressive season in Phoenix, where he averaged career highs in points (11.5), rebounds (5.6), assists (1.6), and three-point percentage (35.1 on four attempts per game). Aron Baynes is an unrestricted free agent and fits the bill of a rotation caliber center that Boston so sorely needs.
Baynes is just one year removed from forming an impressive front-court partnership with former Celtic Al Horford. He knows the system, the players, and the coaching staff. Celtics fans know what they would be getting if Baynes walked through that door, a big-bodied bruising center who competes on every play and is capable of banging down low.
With Robert Williams and Daniel Theis both displaying upside on the offensive end this past season, adding Baynes should be seen as a move to shore up defense around the rim.
When in Boston, Baynes had a good track record of containing Giannis Antetokounmpo. In the above play, Baynes is guarding Giannis on the perimeter, back peddles when The Greek Freak drives to the rim and uses his body to create an uncomfortable shot.
Beyond guarding the Giannises of the world, the big man out of Australia is adept at playing in the Celtics “switch everything” system, sliding his feet well and contesting guards at the rim.
In the video above, you can see how Baynes utilizes his length to cut the middle of the floor off as Norman Powell drives. In this same play, the 260-pound big effortlessly switches off Toronto’s big, displaying his versatility within Brad Stevens’ defensive schemes.
Even though Boston would ensure Bayne’s primary remit would be on defense, the growth in his three-point shooting would add another dimension to the Celtics bench - one that was lacking this past year.
Since leaving the Celtics, Baynes has continued to work on his outside shot and has developed into a reliable scorer from beyond the arc. Phoenix utilized him as a pick-and-pop threat on numerous occasions. While the Celtics rarely run those sets, Baynes’ ability to stretch the floor for a second unit prone to stagnation will be incredibly valuable.
Obtaining Baynes signature isn’t going to be straight forward though. The Celtics would need to move on from some of their other bigs should they wish to acquire Baynes. Otherwise, centers would occupy 33% of Boston’s roster.
As rumors continue to surface around Enes Kanter and the likelihood he begins next season elsewhere, and Vincent Poirier seemingly a trade chip for salary matching, it isn’t hard to envision Baynes returning and splitting minutes with Robert Williams and Daniel Theis.
While freeing up roster spots is an essential caveat in this scenario, another is understanding what type of deal Baynes would be looking for from any prospective team. The general consensus is that the former Celtic would easily command a deal worth the full MLE ($9,258,000). However, the prospect of coming back to Boston and competing for a championship could be enough to sway the 6’10’’ center into taking a slight discount for the taxpayer MLE ($5,718,000).
Despite the fanbase’s eagerness to see the Celtics reunited with their former center, there’s currently no telling if Baynes reciprocates that sentiment. After taking a slight pay cut on his previous deal, the team unceremoniously traded him to the Suns on Draft Night to allow the Celtics additional cap flexibility. While Baynes hasn’t spoken on this publicly, there’s every chance that he feels stung by Ainge and the front office, which could mean his return is nothing more than a pipe dream.
Regardless of this move’s viability, Baynes projects to be precisely what the Celtics bench needs: strong, intelligent, defensively versatile (against bigs) who can stretch the floor on offense. There isn’t a center on the free agent market that makes more sense for the Celtics. It’s just a bonus Baynes already knows the system and personnel. While multiple teams are swinging for the fences (we’re looking at you, Milwaukee), Baynes could project to be one of the smarter pick ups Ainge could make this offseason.