SVG’s reputation, freedom he allows big men helped lure Baynes to Pistons

Aron Baynes is looking forward to flashing parts of his game he wasn’t asked to use in San Antonio.
NBAE/Getty Images
by Keith Langlois
Web Editor

When Aron Baynes arrived from Australia to launch his college days in hopes of it being a springboard to a professional career, it was mere months after the Pistons and Spurs went to an epic seventh game in the 2005 NBA Finals.

The Pistons had just won 50 games for the fourth straight season and there would be three more coming. They were halfway through their run of six straight trips to the Eastern Conference finals or beyond. They came within minutes of the second back-to-back championships in franchise history.

So when Baynes was asked this week about the outside perception of the Pistons –as a player whose entire NBA career to date came with the Spurs, the era’s gold standard of organizational stability and excellence – he didn’t quite hear it the way it was intended.

“That’s one of the reasons I came here,” he said. “I came here because the perception of (Stan) Van Gundy is so good. You don’t really look at that team at what it was. You look at the team as what it is now.”

Now matters. Just as the Pistons can no longer draw interest on all the capital they amassed a decade ago during the second great run in franchise history, neither does their six-year postseason drought mean much to players who had little or nothing to do with more recent shortcomings.

Baynes knows what he sees: A budding young cast led by Andre Drummond and Reggie Jackson, a deep bench and a coach with a league-wide reputation for drawing the best out of players and cobbling together cohesive teams.

Baynes, limited largely to aerobic and weight training over the summer as he recuperated from ankle cleanup surgery, went up and down in five-on-five drills Tuesday morning for the first practice of training camp and passed that test, Van Gundy said. He’ll play an important role as Drummond’s backup while also serving as a power forward alongside him when Van Gundy looks to counter teams that play with more traditional big men.

The chance to play in the type of offensive system Baynes recalls Van Gundy’s Orlando teams employing also appealed to him – as well as the pitch he heard from Van Gundy when free agency opened in July.

“One of the things he mentioned to me was they didn’t necessarily get me here for what they saw me do in San Antonio,” Baynes said. “They saw what I could do with my national team. Stan always gives his big guys freedom. Andre’s going to have a lot of opportunities down there in the post. When I’m in there for him, I want to take advantage of those opportunities. I can bring a different dimension to what NBA fans have seen. I want to bring what I can do playing off the elbow and trying to create some things and being a scorer down low.”

Baynes, 28, put himself squarely on the NBA’s radar with his play in the 2012 London Olympics. After playing for his fourth team across four European leagues a little later that year, he jumped to the NBA in January 2013 – very deliberately choosing the Spurs from a number of possibilities for the success they’d experienced incorporating other international players into their core.

A naturally gregarious personality, Baynes is fitting in fast – something he’s been able to do at his many stops.

“When I was playing over in Europe, it was a new team every year,” he said. “I’m used to coming into a new situation. When I went to San Antonio, it was the middle of the season. So coming into here is no different. I’ve found it pretty easy. When you get to know guys outside of basketball, when you start developing that relationship, then the basketball side works out.”

Van Gundy is banking on that part of it. Baynes was the guy his front office targeted to back up Drummond and they came to a quick agreement on a three-year deal when free agency opened in July. He’s eager for the chance to do the things San Antonio didn’t ask of him – the things that make the Pistons believe he’s one of the hidden gems of free agency – while helping change the perception of the franchise back to what it was when he arrived at Washington State a decade ago.