How great is Aron Baynes? How great is James Jones? The Phoenix Suns are a different team than they have been in years past, and one small move ended up playing huge with a rival.
When new Phoenix Suns General Manager James Jones traded the Milwaukee Bucks’ 2020 first round pick to the Boston Celtics for the draft rights to Ty Jerome and backup center Aron Baynes, the move on the surface seemed fairly innocuous.
Jones was placing an emphasis on the needs of today versus potential needs in the future, and not only acquired a college junior (who he expected was depth at point guard, a position the franchise had been very thin at for several years), but then depth at center – at that point entirely unbeknownst to anyone that Deandre Ayton would miss 25 early-season games.
Sure, some fans were very excited in the prospect of adding Jerome, and others were huge fans of Baynes’ play, while another group was also worried about the prospect of losing a future first round pick which could have been used as a trade piece in another, bigger deal.
In all, the trade was just another in a series of splashy moves that Jones made on draft day, moves that no one would have any clue as to how they would work out until the regular season began.
But up until draft day, the Phoenix Suns had been in a long-term mode of building expressly around young and unproven youth, players with very little experience but with the hope that their growth would lead to stardom down the line.
With his moves, Jones, on the other hand, was showing that he believed that he already had enough to build around, and not only did he not want more of the same, but with his acquisitions of Cameron Johnson and Jerome (two players with a combined eight-years college experience) as well as Baynes and Dario Saric (two players with NBA Playoff experience), he had built a roster with a solid balance of youth and veteran experience.
Yet, for a franchise who had for nearly a decade been focusing on developing that extremely young and raw talent, it truly did take until the start of training camp before the NBA world could be sure of what the general manager’s intentions were in the rebuilding process moving forward.
So much so, that he inadvertently stole another piece from the Suns’ most-hated rivals the Los Angeles Lakers, in the same summer.
When Jones signed Monty Williams, he caused a league-wide sensation of almost epic proportions.
Not only were the Phoenix Suns finally hiring a proven, veteran head coach and not going with more unproven leadership, but he stole Williams from the Lakers, the destination that everyone seemed to believe was where he would end.
But then, on draft day, the Lakers coveted a player who they believed would have been a perfect compliment to their own superstar acquisition, Anthony Davis.
According to Shams Charania of The Athletic, the Lakers had their eye on Aron Baynes and had hoped that James Jones would follow the same path that the franchise had been walking along for the past few years of dumping solid and serviceable veterans for absolutely nothing.
If they had, then the Lakers had intended to pounce.
To be fair, a buy out of Baynes basically would have followed the pattern that the franchise had created of itself for several yeas, so it honestly probably would not have shocked anybody even in Phoenix had Jones decided to go that route.
In fact, I recall wondering that very thing when te deal was announced if Baynes would in fact ever put on a Suns uniform. The talk had been that a decision would be made over the course of the few days following the draft and there was a chance that a buy out could be in affect.
At least that was the rumor. Presumably James Jones never even intended on buying out the veteran center as he was obviously looking at the roster that he had built as one that could compete for a playoff spot this season.
The veterans that the Phoenix Suns had bought out or dumped off even last season went straight to playoff contenders.
Fortunately for both the Phoenix Suns as a team and their fans alike, Jones did not buy out Baynes, and instead kept him and, albeit at the moment injured, has been the team’s MVP in Ayton’s unexpected absence.
When both Baynes and Ayton returns, the roster will have some of the best depth at the center position in the league, something that will be a tremendous blessing for a team that cannot defend the paint right now to save their lives.
If, upon his return, Ayton does take the step forward as he was expected to take prior to the season, and Baynes comes back and plays at his own pre-injury level, there will be very few teams in the league who will be able to counter such a dynamic duo.
In the end though, one thing is for sure: Baynes is a very good player, and I am sure that the LA Lakers would have loved to have had him on their roster playing at the level he has been, rather than Dwight Howard – who unfortunately hasn’t been playing bad at all, but is not playing at the level of Aron Baynes.