PHOENIX — The Celtics never intended to trade center Aron Baynes last summer.
In early June, the big man picked up his $5.5 million player option for this season and he spoke excitedly about returning and helping fix the issues that plagued Boston.
But everything changed when it became clear that Kyrie Irving and Al Horford would be leaving. The Celtics needed to free salary-cap space in order to be able to sign a max-salary free agent such as Kemba Walker, and so, on draft night, Baynes and his salary were sent to the Suns.
Baynes has thrived for Phoenix this season, averaging 15 points, 5.5 rebounds, and 2.9 assists per game and making 46.8 percent of his 3-pointers.
“Aron’s been an anchor for us,” Suns coach Monty Williams said. “His leadership, his defense, his verticality at the rim has been unreal for us. He’s well documented as one of the best screen-setters, if not the best screen-setter in the league. His shooting is something that I’m not surprised by.
“We value him. From the day we got him, we knew he was going to change our program for the better. We didn’t know he was going to be this valuable this soon, but we’re thankful for all the intangibles and the physicality, his passing, rebounding, communication on defense, it’s second to none.”
Celtics coach Brad Stevens, for one, has not been surprised by Baynes’s strong play in Phoenix.
“He’s just a total energy-raiser,” Stevens said. “He doesn’t have a down day from an energy standpoint, ever. I think that has a contagious effect. You can see that in the way they play.”
Rubio late scratch
Suns point guard Ricky Rubio was a late addition to the injury report, as it was revealed about 15 minutes before tipoff that he would likely miss the game due to back spasms.
It was a major break for the Celtics, as Rubio came in averaging 13.6 points, 8.7 assists, and 6.3 rebounds.
Jevon Carter started in his place.
After the Celtics lost to the Kings on Sunday, forward Jaylen Brown appeared quite frustrated by the defeat and said several times that the Celtics must find a way to be more mentally sound so they do not fall into a rut.
Stevens on Monday elaborated on that concept.
“It means the same thing every night,” he said. “Control the controllables.
“There were some things that we did really well. I thought for the most part [Sunday] was a pretty good defensive game, but [Buddy Hield] had three 3’s that we could have been better on and that got him going. Once he sees the balls go through the net, then those impossible shots late go in.”
After Marcus Smart’s last-second shot rolled off the rim and gave the Kings their 100-99 win Sunday, the Sacramento players stormed onto the court to celebrate. But the celebration did not quite stop there, and it’ll cost Hield.
The Kings guard punted the ball into the stands after it bounced to midcourt and the NBA fined him $25,000.