The Phoenix Suns had such a feel-good year that many of the team’s impending free agents hope they can stay in the fold.
All of Frank Kaminsky (team option), Jevon Carter (restricted free agent), Dario Saric (RFA) and Cameron Payne (non-guaranteed) have expressed their desire on social media or podcasts to remain in Phoenix for next season, citing the team’s culture and commitment to winning games.
But the same cannot be said of others. No peep from minimum salary players on the back end of the bench and out of the rotation, like Elie Okobo (non-guaranteed), Cheick Diallo (team option) or Jalen Lecque (non-guaranteed). They’re just in wait-and-see mode. And I totally understand that. They would appreciate being let go to join a team that sees a future with them, whether it be here in the U.S. or overseas.
That leaves us with Aron Baynes.
Baynes had a career year with the Suns, adding a reliable three-ball to his bag of tricks as a short-minutes bruiser who fits great as the backup center on a contender. Baynes’ NBA role is immutable, highly portable across all 30 NBA teams. He will get you 8-10 points, 5 rebounds and a block or assist in 15 minutes, and fill in as a starter if you need that for short stretches.
But he’s also injury-prone at this stage as a 33-year-old (yes, that’s old for pro basketball players) and the Suns went 8-0 without him in the Bubble as he recovered from a bad bout of COVID.
Baynes has been in the NBA for eight seasons, played for four different franchises, won a championship with San Antonio, made the conference finals with Boston, and played important roles on rebuilding teams in Detroit and Phoenix. Pulling back the lens, he’s been a professional for another seven years on top of that down in native Australia. He’s seen it all. He’s not in his formative years anymore. One pretty good year in Phoenix is not going to change his world view.
So don’t hold it against him when he’s asked about free agency and this is his reply.
Check this out via a story from ESPN:
“Everything’s so fluid right now,” Baynes said of his free agency.
“That’s why you’ve got to lean on people you trust. For me, it’s my agent, and I know that’s the business side of basketball. I’ve been through it too many times to tie anything emotional to it, as much as you want to. You do have these connections throughout basketball and throughout the teams you’ve played for and where you’ve gone and also the outlook for your family. Everything weighs in to it.
“At the end of the day, it’s a business decision, and we aren’t even sure how that business is panning out right now, so hopefully it’s for the best. It’s what I’ll be leaning on the agent for. Whatever we do, we’ll try to make the best decision for myself, for my family and everyone who’s helped me get to this point.”
No mention of Phoenix being his preferred destination, despite still living in Phoenix throughout 2020 as he and his family recover from the virus and wait out the pandemic. He spends his day in dad mode, the ultimate pandemic job where all he needs to do while they’re in school is work out his body and his grill.
He’s a man of the world. The unrestricted free agent can play anywhere he’s wanted next year and likely — should — want to be on a contender that could get him a second ring.
He did his job for the Suns. He brought a sense of professionalism, and helped develop Deandre Ayton into a better player.
“I knew I could come in here and impart that (winning experience) on some of these young guys. The best part was I didn’t have to push any of them. They were trying to push me as well.
Deandre’s a special player, and he has so much talent. It’s just about getting him to lock in and focus on every possession, and when he does that, he goes out there and really dominates.”
Could Baynes come back to the Suns after all? Of course.
The Suns have an ace in the hole. They retain his Bird Rights, meaning they can watch him test the market while they spend/commit their full cap allowance on the rest of the roster (up to $18.69 million). Then after the dust settles, they have the ability to exercise their Bird Rights Exception to re-sign him to a market-rate deal over and above the cap. He’s already here in Phoenix after all.
We’ll see this all play out over the next few weeks. Training camps start on December 1.
If Baynes leaves, he leaves. We will miss him, his red beard and push-shot three point range. In the end he’s got to do what’s best for the Baynes family. Basketball doesn’t last forever, so he’s got to make his money now.
But it sure would be nice to watch him continue to build the Suns into a consistent winner, like a pseudo player development coach.
Let me leave you with highlights of Baynes’ best statistical game of the season, draining 37 points (including 9 threes) and grabbing 16 rebounds on the Trail Blazers three days before the season was suspended for the pandemic.