Why Aron Baynes would be a tough piece to replace for Celtics in free agency

(USAToday Sports)

Marcus Smart is getting most of the headlines during the start of the offseason, but one name that deserves plenty of attention as the calendar turns to July 1st is Aron Baynes.

The 31-year-old center was an integral part of the frontcourt all year long after signing a one-year deal last offseason for the room exception ($4.3 million). Baynes anchored the league’s best defense from the center spot, took the onus off of Al Horford against centers with size across the league, and even added a 3-point jumper to his game, which proved valuable during the postseason.

He was a part of Boston’s most played lineup all year (Kyrie Irving/Jaylen Brown/Jayson Tatum/Al Horford/Baynes), and that group’s net rating (plus-13.2) wiped the floor compared to Boston’s small-ball starting lineups (Marcus Morris over Baynes had a minus-9.7 rating) during the regular season. The Celtics needed Baynes on the floor to be a good rebounding team most nights, and the team’s defense took a sharp dip when he didn’t play with the starters.

“We liked Aron’s contribution this year,” Danny Ainge explained at exit interviews earlier this week. “He’s just a great teammate. He takes a lot of pressure off of Al, plays all the tough guys, brings consistent energy day in and day out to practice and games and he was a really big part of our team this year.”

The impact that Baynes had throughout the postseason was evident as he battled valiantly against the likes of Giannis Antetokounmpo and Joel Embiid to help the Celtics win those series. There are few centers around the NBA who can hold their own against those stars, and it’s safe to say those guys aren’t going anywhere in the Eastern Conference anytime soon.

That reality provides a pressing backdrop to Baynes’ pending free agency this offseason. Not only do the Celtics have limited resources to retain him, but a look around the league also shows a lack of appealing alternatives.

Here’s a current list of true centers that will be hitting the free agent market this summer: