Aron Baynes wasn’t brought to Boston to help change the culture there. When a team is vying for a championship, as the Celtics are, each player on the roster has a role to play. What Baynes has brought to a Boston squad currently sitting on top of the Eastern Conference is a veteran toughness and leadership that can’t be quantified by numbers alone.
After a five-game defeat in last season’s Eastern Conference Finals to the Cleveland Cavaliers, Celtics president Danny Ainge decided he needed some extra veterans who had been there and done that to complement his seemingly endless array of youthful stars. The biggest names to arrive were free agent signing Gordon Hayward and Kyrie Irving via trade, but the acquisition of Baynes in mid-July might be prove to be just as valuable.
Baynes had spent the previous two seasons with the Detroit Pistons, after his first three with the San Antonio Spurs, but opted out of the third year of his deal to become a free agent this past summer. Now with a change of scenery, Baynes has a legitimate shot at another championship, and has fit into the Celtics culture with ease.
“I’m just enjoying being within the system that Brad [Stevens] has for us,” Baynes told ESPN. “When we play within the system he always puts us in the right place for us to succeed.”
Hayward’s gruesome injury just minutes into the team’s opening night loss was a setback to say the least, followed by another loss to the Bucks the following night, and you could have been forgiven for thinking the Cavaliers’ path back to the Finals was a sure thing. Since then, though, the Celtics have reeled off 13 straight wins, becoming the first team to do so after beginning the season 0-2.
Baynes, who is averaging 6.1 points and 5.7 rebounds in about 20 minutes a night, has often picked up the slack when the team has needed him to.
Against the Lakers last week he finished with a career-high 21 points in Al Horford’s absence to lead the team to a win.
“When he’s on the floor, defensively we’re really an elite team,” Horford said in Brooklyn Monday night. “He does a great job protecting the rim, we need to get him involved more offensively, but he does a great job. He’s been a big difference.”
Irving echoed Baynes’ thoughts on succeeding within the system: “He’s a big body in the middle. He’s an incredible screener and does the little things for us to win. When you incorporate a guy like that into a team system like we have, he can flourish.”
As one of only two players with a championship ring on the team, Baynes is also able to pass along some knowledge to the younger core of what it’s going to take to reach their ultimate goal this season.
“It’s about doing it every single night and trying to get better every single night,” Baynes told ESPN.
“We’re playing against such talented players that you can’t afford to take a night off. Everyone’s in the NBA for a reason so we’re just trying to go out there and stay focused and locked in all the time we’re on the floor.”
And it’s not just on game night where Baynes has helped the Celtics. Coach Stevens says the Australian has been a vocal leader in practices, along with Irving and Horford, all the way back to training camp.
“Those first three weeks, those guys put our young guys in a position to feel comfortable with what we were trying to do,” Stevens said. “It was non-stop chatter on the court when we were practicing. Our practices were probably the loudest I’ve been a part of.”
The Celtics will have to stay locked in to remain at the top of the East standings. Despite holding a 5.5 game lead over rivals Cleveland, Baynes says November is no time to start getting complacent, or feeling too confident. Despite the winning streak, he says the team is definitely not getting ahead of itself so early in the season.
“Teams are gonna play themselves into where they should be so we’re not focused on that right now,” Baynes said. “We’re focused on what we need to do. Every game there’s stuff to work on and get a lot better at.
“We have so much room for improvement and we’re pretty excited about that because we know we can get a lot better, and we’ve still been able to learn from winning which is always a positive.”