The Celtics can do it now, and they probably will. They gave him 3 chances, so I guess that's all you can ask them to take.
Point of no return for Baker
He misses 10th straight game; Celtics expected to let him go
By Shira Springer, Globe Staff, 2/13/2004
CHICAGO -- Vin Baker was not permitted to return to the Celtics for last night's game against the Bulls at the United Center, marking the 10th game he has missed because of an indefinite suspension that began Jan. 23.
Since Baker missed his 10th game, the Celtics now have the right to terminate the power forward's contract. All indications are they will take steps to do so this morning, a move that will not sit well with Baker and his representatives.
"As stated previously by my representatives, I have and continue to do everything that is required of me to remain in compliance with my after-care program and eagerly await being officially reinstated to play," said Baker in a statement released last night. "I am surprised and disappointed that I have not been cleared to play as of today, but remain optimistic knowing that I have gone above and beyond what has been asked of me during my absence. My representatives have and will continue to communicate with team officials on my behalf, until I am reinstated."
When an NBA team decides to pursue the termination of a contract, the first step is to place the player on waivers for 48 business hours. If the player goes unclaimed, the team holding his rights can terminate the contract.
Since the deadline to place a player on waivers yesterday passed at 6 p.m., the Celtics have their first opportunity to place Baker on waivers at 10 this morning. And according to league sources, it's expected they will do so.
It is also expected Baker will clear waivers because no NBA team will want to assume the two-plus years and approximately $35 million remaining on the deal. Because of the weekend and national holiday Monday, the earliest Baker can officially clear waivers is Wednesday at 10 a.m. If he does so, the Celtics can begin so-called divorce proceedings.
Those proceedings are sure to be contentious, as the players' union is almost certain to file a grievance. It would not be surprising if the Celtics and Baker ended up in arbitration. It is difficult to place a value on what it would be worth for Baker to walk away from the Celtics, but at this point, any attempt to reach a monetary settlement would likely find the sides very far apart. Numerous sources familiar with the situation have mentioned figures that range from $3 million to $30 million. Once Baker severs contractual ties with Boston, he is free to sign with another NBA team.
Owner Wyc Grousbeck, who attended Chicago's 107-87 blowout win over Boston, declined comment on the Baker situation. Director of basketball operations Danny Ainge stated he knew essentially nothing about the case.
"It's in the hands of the doctors," said Ainge. "That's all I know."
Baker's representatives maintain he is "ready, willing, and able" to return to the Celtics and NBA-level basketball. Under an agreement reached between Baker and the Celtics during the offseason, Dr. Lloyd Baccus, an Atlanta psychiatrist who became head of the NBA's drug program in 1994, is the only person with the discretion to determine when -- or if -- Baker can come back.
"Our position remains the same," said Baker's personal adviser and lawyer, Steve Singleteary. "We know that Vin is ready to be reinstated and he has done everything asked of him and more."
Added Baker's agent, Aaron Goodwin: "Vin's ready to play. He's in great physical condition and compliant with the doctors. He's just waiting for the doctors to release him to play."
Since the Celtics indefinitely suspended the power forward, Baker underwent further treatment to address a relapse of his alcoholism. The indefinite suspension indicated that Baker had been found in "noncompliance" with his after-care program on at least three occasions this season. On Jan. 6, Baker was fined and suspended for three games for his failure of multiple alcohol tests.
Baker underwent treatment for alcoholism last spring at Silver Hill Hospital in New Canaan, Conn. As part of an extensive league-supervised after-care program, Baker is subject to regular alcohol testing. For the first six weeks of the season, the carefully designed program appeared to work well as Baker earned the starting job at power forward, regularly played more than 30 minutes per game, and posted one of the best field goal percentages in the league. There was a noticeable decline in his play throughout December, when Baker's average dropped nearly 4 points and his average playing time decreased by almost seven minutes. Since the beginning of January, Baker has spent almost as much time away from the team on suspension than playing because of "noncompliance" with his after-care program.
"I appreciate the continued support and prayers of the fans, my teammates, colleagues, friends, family, and the players' association," said Baker, "and assure you that I am ready, willing, and able to get back on the court and contribute given the opportunity."
© Copyright 2004 Globe Newspaper Company.
Fight is for life, not career
By Michael Holley, Globe Columnist, 2/13/2004
For basketball reasons only, I never wanted the Celtics to trade for Vin Baker 19 months ago. For reasons that had nothing to do with the game, I recently hoped the Celtics wouldn't be able to find an honest reason to terminate his contract.
If that meant the team's owners would have to pay a luxury tax at the end of this season, so what. If it meant fewer dollars to spend on free agents, so be it. Saving a buck isn't nearly as important as saving a man's life.
Anyone who has ever seen alcoholism up close has to be worried about Baker's life. He is someone who gets a lot of his self-worth from playing basketball, and he no longer has a basketball job to train for. The Celtics are expected to waive him this morning, putting an end to the forward's 89-game Boston career.
Games. The irony is that they didn't define the native New Englander's time here. The problems did. Baker is a 32-year-old man with a tagline -- recovering alcoholic -- that will last much longer than the 11 years of his NBA career.
"Addiction is a demon," John Lucas said yesterday, "and the demon never takes a day off. It's patient. It's quiet. It always, always wants you back."
Lucas, the No. 1 pick in the 1976 NBA draft, played until 1990. He has been sober for nearly 19 years. Many of those years have been spent educating people about addictive diseases. One of those diseases is so commanding that it can bring a 6-foot-11-inch millionaire like Baker to his knees.
The intensity of addiction was clear to Lucas when he played for former Celtics coach Bill Fitch in Houston. Fitch knew Lucas had a problem, so Fitch would make the guard watch film with him -- in the coach's hotel room -- until 4 a.m.
"At that point he would say, `The bus leaves at 7. I think it's safe for you to go to bed now,' " Lucas recalled. "He gave me that kind of attention, and I still didn't make it that time. I wanted to, but I couldn't.
"I think athletes need to understand that it's not knee surgery. It's not a bad ankle. It's not going to heal and go away. It's going to be there."
Who knows why it's there for Baker?
There is no cliched, made-for-Sociology 101 answer. When you talk with Baker, you quickly realize how gentle and thoughtful he is. He is rich. He was raised in a two-parent home. His father is a preacher. He has received recognition, awards, and even an Olympic gold medal.
None of those things matter, obviously, when it comes to alcoholism. Baker's struggles with the powerful disease not only put his own job in jeopardy, it led to the demotion of the general manager who traded for him.
I still remember the afternoon I called Chris Wallace and asked him to sell me on the Baker deal. He mentioned many things, many of which I disagreed with. But at least they were all basketball-related. Wallace was convinced that he could get 10 points and 5 rebounds a night out of Baker.
That wasn't too much to ask of a big man in the Eastern Conference, and especially not someone with Baker's history. The Celtics never got their consistent 10 and 5, and Wallace never got a chance to put a sober, at-peace Baker with Paul Pierce and Antoine Walker.
We all blasted Wallace for making the trade, and a few people reasoned that the GM should have done his research first. I'm sure he did. I'm also sure that he talked to Baker and found himself taken with the engaging forward.
Wallace is not the first person to fall into that category. And Baker is not the only person who was able to function on the job -- for a time -- as an alcoholic. Lucas said he has met and heard from many people who don't refer to themselves as alcoholics, but who drink for the same reasons that some alcoholics do.
"What makes this subject so compelling is that it's not all about drinking," Lucas said. "It's about life. Let me explain. There are several layers to addiction. There is a compulsion of the mind; your mind tells you that you really need that drink. But there is also an emotional and spiritual bankruptcy there. That person has lost his way, lost some of his values. There is something going on with that person that they find unacceptable. There is something that makes them feel that a drink will take the pain away."
Lucas knows Baker, but he wanted to make it clear that he was speaking generally. He also said the tugs and doubts never fade. Part of recovery is handling ordinary problems without needing a drink.
Four months ago, Lucas found himself confronted with turning 50. "In my mind, I'm the only one turning 50," he said. "I'm saying, `My life is over. Where's my AARP card?' But that's silly, isn't it? I'm not the only one who's 50. Life is just beginning."
Let's hope that's the case for Baker. There will likely be lots of appeals from the NBA Players Association, regarding the status of his contract. The Celtics will likely attempt to void it while the union will try to protect one of its own.
But there are lots of things more important than contracts in this case.
Celtics ownership and management will have to answer a lot of questions before 2004 is over. They'll have to answer arbitrators as well as their own consciences. Did they do all they could to help Baker?
And Baker will have to submit some truthful answers, too. Is he continuing to do all he can to help himself?
Whether he plays another game or not is irrelevant. He is a recovering alcoholic, so he is no longer on an NBA schedule. The opponent is inside Vin Baker now. He'll be fighting for the rest of his life
Michael Holley is a Globe columnist. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
© Copyright 2004 Globe Newspaper Company.