Rumor: Clippers eyeing Suns’ center Aron Baynes

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Thrust into a larger-than-expected role because Deandre Ayton earned a suspension, Aron Baynes has had a breakout season in Phoenix. The big man is averaging 13 points and 5.7 rebounds a game, shooting 37.5 percent from three on four attempts a night, spacing the floor on offense and playing solid defense in the paint on the other end.

That has caught the eye of the Los Angeles Clippers who would be interested in swapping centers with the Suns, something Bleacher Report’s Eric Pincus said he heard at the G-League Showcase in Las Vegas just before Christmas.

Baynes is believed to be a prime target for the Clippers. Zubac’s four-year, $28.5 million salary would work straight-up for the Phoenix center, but the Suns may not want to take on a long-term salary for a true center to back up Deandre Ayton.

“They would need a third team,” one Eastern Conference executive said.

The Clippers also would likely need to give up a pick in this scenario.

This rumor speaks to one truth clear to sources around the league: The Clippers are going to be aggressive at the deadline. Los Angeles knows its a contender and with a potentially short window (Kawhi Leonard and Paul George can be free agents in the summer of 2021), and Steve Ballmer’s crew will do what it takes to win now (they hope that gets the stars to re-sign). While Los Angeles sent a lot to Oklahoma City to get George, the team still has its own 2020 first-round pick and players such as Moe Harkless that could entice teams.

The Clippers have been linked to Thaddeus Young, but an upgrade at center is another consideration. The Clippers love Montrezl Harrell but he is an energy big off the bench, not a starting center. Is Ivica Zubac the starting center on a championship team? One could ask the same thing of Baynes, but with his floor spacing he could be played next to Harrell, something the Clippers can’t do with Zubac.

The real issue for the Clippers is the Suns may want to keep Baynes and make upgrades themselves, looking for a playoff push. Robert Sarver’s Suns have always thought short term and the team is just half-a-game out of the last playoff spot in the West.

Instead, Phoenix is looking to add to its roster. Kevin Love could be a possibility, but the team is believed to have more interest in Oklahoma City Thunder forward Danilo Gallinari.

What I heard in Las Vegas is a lot of teams interested in Gallinari — he tops my “player most likely to be traded” list. Even though the Thunder are a playoff team right now and have made no decisions on direction, they are not letting one surprising season change their long-range thinking. The Thunder and Suns could talk Gallinari trade, and/or point guard Dennis Schroeder, and Cleveland would like to lean into those talks and put Kevin Love on the table.

The Clippers are a team to watch at the deadline. Any series between the Los Angeles teams is going to be tight — plus teams such as Denver are not far behind — and if the Clippers can gain an advantage with a trade, they will do it. Whether they could land Baynes is another discussion.