Kiwi-born Baynes taking NBA in stride
Seeing his name on an NBA singlet hanging in the San Antonio Spurs locker room should have been an unforgettable moment for Australian big man Aron Baynes.
For a brief second it was, as was seeing NBA superstars Tim Duncan and Tony Parker walking around that same room.
But Baynes is a man on a mission and does not want his NBA career to be all about a name on a singlet, a few dollars in the bank and some star sightings - Baynes wants to make a place for himself in the biggest basketball league in the world.
The 26-year-old, 208-centimetre centre made his debut for the Spurs last week, playing 48 seconds against the Dallas Mavericks.
Baynes spoke with Fairfax Media from San Antonio, enjoying a rare day off from the NBA grind, in which teams regularly play three or four games in a week while travelling to all parts of the US for matches.
He said moving to the NBA was a dream come true but also the beginning of the most important chapter of his career. ''When I first started playing, this was the goal I set - now I'm here, so I've set a few other goals,'' he said.
''I want to go out, have an impact and compete. It was a great feeling to get on court in my first game. There is nothing like it, just like the first time I saw my jersey. But this isn't it. This is where it starts, it's the beginning of the road for me.''
The New Zealand-born, Australian-raised big man caught the eye of NBA scouts during his US college career at Washington State, with his strength and power dunking. But Baynes, despite his power attributes, was seen as a raw talent, a player who fouled too much, could not score consistently around the basket and could not stay on the court.
So he went to work on his game, both with teams in Greece, Germany and Lithuania and in the Australian national team programme. In his time with the Boomers, Baynes was coached by Spurs assistant coach Brett Brown, and that was where he came to the Spurs' notice.
At the London Olympics, Baynes got the chance to show his improvement, throwing down some memorable dunks and banging bodies with some of the best players in the world.
That form extended into the current Euroleague campaign with Slovenian club Union Olimpija, in which he led the competition in rebounding. Baynes said his Euroleague form had set him on course for the NBA.
''After the Olympics, I knew I was around the mark and that momentum carried into the Euroleague season,'' he said. ''There was some NBA interest there after the first round of matches, so it was about finding the right place.
''I have two good agents who talked [to] the Spurs and luckily we were able to find a good fit for me. They are one of the best organisations and best teams; it was a pretty easy decision to come over here.''
The most appealing part of his multimillion-dollar contract is the Spurs have guaranteed Baynes' place for this season and next while also keeping an option to sign him for more seasons should he impress.
''This season is about learning the system and next season is about going out and earning my spot,'' he said.
Baynes has already made a few brief appearances as the Spurs work him into their offensive and defensive systems, but with Duncan, the Spurs' 36-year-old power forward, rested from selected late-season matches, Baynes will get a few chances to extend his minutes.
He got such an opportunity in the Spurs' win over Charlotte on on Wednesday scoring seven points, including a lay-up from a lob-pass by fellow Australian Patty Mills, and grabbing nine rebounds in 18 minutes as Duncan rested.
The Spurs are expected to finish in the top four of the western conference and push for the NBA championship, although they are in a tight battle with last season's losing NBA finalists Oklahoma City Thunder and the emerging Los Angeles Clippers.
Sydney Morning Herald