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2015 NBA free agency: If the Spurs don't bring back Aron Baynes, who would they sign?

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Baynes has gone from garbage time fixture to rotation player. If the Spurs can't retain him, replacing him might not be easy.

Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports

Michael Erler and Jesus Gomez have been discussing the status of the Spurs' upcoming free agents. It's time to talk about Aron Baynes.

Michael Erler
Here are the numbers that stand out for me with Baynes: .448 and .458

The former is his shooting percentage from 10-16 feet. The latter is his percentage from 16-22. Slowly but surely, he is extending his shooting range, to the point where the offense isn't as clogged.

Splitter was never fully healthy last season, but I don't think it's a stretch to suggest that Baynes is the better offensive player. He's more athletic and has more touch around the rim. He's a more versatile scorer and a better free-throw shooter. The only thing he's worse at is passing.

That isn't to say I'd prefer him to Splitter or anything, but just a way of stating that I think Baynes is certainly an above-average backup center and I'd like him to return for a reasonable price.

Jesus Gomez
I disagree with a few of the things you just said. First, Baynes doesn't shoot enough from those distances to be a threat, so yeah, things are clogged. Maybe that's Pop's fault for not giving him the green light but it's a reality.

Second, Baynes is not the passer or screener Splitter is. Some people are blinded by his build but it takes more than strength to be a good screener. You have to develop a feel with the ball-handlers and be able to change angles. Baynes is average there but could certainly improve.

Having said that, I can agree he has the tools to be a better finisher than Splitter for sure, because he can score inside and out, if left open. 

Erler
It takes time for Pop to give the green light, especially to bigs.

Your point on his screening is fair one, though I'd argue Splitter didn't have a very good screening season last year. I think injuries affected him there, too.

Gomez
That's true. The only area in which Splitter was truly great -- strangely enough -- was in post scoring last season. Even his defense suffered.

Erler
Mainly, I don't want a few dunks by Blake Griffin to color how people view Baynes. Griffin is a top-10 player. He's supposed to abuse backup centers. Just like how Chris Paul is supposed to torch Cory Joseph, which happened in Game 1. Those things shouldn't diminish how we look at the reserves. They're expected.

Gomez
I agree completely.

Erler
I think Baynes made strides as a defender and rebounder last season and he fouled less too. Still too much, but less than before.

Gomez
Again, I agree. I'm on record as saying I didn't think Baynes was an NBA player not long ago but he won me over. He belongs. That's not up for discussion anymore, I believe. Now we have to figure out how good he is.

Do you think he could be a quality starter?

Erler
Quality? No. But only because of how I view centers, and how I think the modern NBA views them for the most part. First and foremost centers have to protect the rim and rebound. Whatever offense they give you is gravy, because post-up stuff is by its nature inefficient anyway. Rim protection is mandatory, no way around it. You cannot win big in the NBA if you can't guard the rim.

In other words, it's much more valuable for a center to a be a B+ defender and a C offensive player than vice versa. Andrew Bogut is far more valuable than Nikola Pekovic. Baynes is closer to Pekovic's end of the spectrum than Bogut's.

Still, he's a valuable reserve who can start in a pinch and not kill you.

Gomez
Hmm. I can get on board with that definition but I think it depends who you start him against. I think it's obvious Baynes can't match up with quality bigs on defense. Griffin killed him but so did Dwight Howard a few times during the regular season after he contained him in one playoff game against the Lakers.

I think he's a good backup and I'd like him to be on the roster next season but I'd want at least three other players getting more minutes than he does. Essentially, I want him in the role he had this season.

Erler
Between Diaw's hibernation and Splitter's injury woes, the odds are not strong you'll get that.

Gomez
And that's my concern.

Erler
I was a bit surprised there was no market for Baynes last year and the Spurs even made it seem like bringing him back was a reluctant afterthought. I guess they were waiting on Pau Gasol. I think he'll have suitors this time around.

Gomez
Now we are getting to the heart of the issue. I like Baynes as a $2 million-a-year third center. I'm not sure I'd like him as a $5 million-a-year, 25 minutes a night big. And I think if the Spurs are going to match an offer for him, they are only going to do it because they think he can be that.

Erler
I'm not sure he can stay on the floor for 25 minutes. My concern with Baynes is that he's a lot older than people think. He doesn't have much NBA experience, but he's gonna turn 29 in December. So, it's not like he's going to improve much more.

Gomez
Oh, yeah that's a given. We can hope he continues to improve slightly on defense and maybe develop a consistent 18-footer but that's it.

Again, that's the problem. He will enter restricted free agency and this time someone will make an offer. If it gets past the $4 million range, I'm not sure the Spurs should match it. And if he looks to Europe, he could get a contract that's close to his NBA qualifying offer and have a bigger role. Considering his play last year and his age, this will be the biggest contract he signs in his entire his career. It's tough to see him staying in San Antonio.

Erler
Yeah. It's definitely going to be difficult for the Spurs to keep him at something reasonable. They can probably get 80 percent of his production from a D-League kid or somebody in the draft. A lot of big bangers out there. It's just up to their developmental coaches to get them up to speed and for Pop to give them some rope.

You really can't be paying your fourth big more than two or three milion.

Gomez
Right. Not unless you think he can develop to be more than that. I'm not sure Baynes can take another leap.

And yet his shot intrigues me. If he gets that 18-footer to fall consistently, it would open up the offense. 

Erler
It wouldn't be the end of the world if they sign him to two years for $9-10 million, but I don't see it happening.

Here's a question: suppose the Spurs bring back only one player for $4-5 million a year. Would you prefer Baynes, Belinelli or Joseph?

Gomez
Baynes and it's not particularly close.

You?

Erler
Yeah, I'm inclined to agree. It's not because of him as much as the make up of the roster. I just don't feel comfortable with Diaw and Splitter to trust them completely for 82 games, and Duncan is 39.

Baynes is a known commodity. Belinelli and Joseph are nice pieces but more luxuries than necessities given what else the team has.

Gomez
So we both want Baynes back but are not sure the Spurs will be able to do it for a reasonable price for his role. I'm assuming you'll give us your potential replacements in your free agency posts but can you give me one name now?

Erler
Well, he won't be cheaper, but a guy who I like is Brandan Wright. I think he could be pretty destructive playing with Manu. The Mavs had the best offense in the NBA when he was there. When he plays with smart offensive players around him, he's really good.

On the other side of the coin, a strict defense-and-rebounding guy, I think someone like Alexis Ajinca could be decent. He was in the summer league for the Spurs a couple years ago and had his best season for the Pelicans last year. Obviously he has ties to Parker and Diaw.

Gomez
I like Ed Davis a lot. Maybe he will be cheap. Bismack Biyombo could be an option. But in all honesty, I'd rather have Baynes.

It would have been a risk but using 20/20 hindsight, the Spurs should have signed him to a long term deal last season. Too bad PATFO isn't completely infallible.