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03-03-2004, 01:47 PM
Teams hoping to land Baker at bargain price

If Vin Baker has the guts to admit that he is an alcoholic, then the least we can do is be honest enough to admit what this whole arbitration case involving him, the Celtics, the players union and the NBA is about.

This isn't about whether Baker can play basketball in the NBA.

This is about whether Baker is worth $13.5 million this season and $35 million over the next 2 seasons.

And the answer is no.

On Tuesday night, the league sent a memo to each NBA team to halt the recruiting of Baker, who was released last month by the Boston Celtics for violating the terms of his rehab. Those terms stated that if he missed 10 games in a row, under care of a mutually agreed upon physician, then his deal was null and void.

Well, he missed 10 games.

Vin Baker's career is stuck in legal limbo at the moment.
After the Celtics released him and his contract other teams immediately inquired about his services, including the New York Knicks, Miami Heat and Toronto Raptors. But in the meantime, Baker's people filed a grievance with the league, stating that he was fully capable of playing and that he shouldn't have been released by the Celtics in the first place.

That case has gone to arbitration and instigated the memo because, simply, Baker can't sign with another team if the arbitrator can possibly rule him still a member of the Celtics.

Now the noise . . .

"It is outrageous for the NBA to prevent Vin Baker from signing with any NBA club," Billy Hunter, executive director of the players association, said in the New York Times. "The league's action is a clear admission that Vin is not only fit to play professional basketball, but there are numerous teams willing to sign him today . . . We intend to go to the arbitrator immediately, to expose this desperate and blatant attempt to deprive this player of an opportunity to pursue his livelihood and demonstrate to the world that he is ready, willing and fit to play pro basketball."

Baker's agent, Aaron Goodwin, joined in.

"Of course it's disturbing," Goodwin said in the Boston Herlad. "It's disturbing that the league is trying to stop Vin from playing basketball. But we'll deal with it and move forward."

Goodwin can't take the hard stand Hunter is because he could care less if Baker plays for the Celtics or the Knicks or the Heat or the Little Sisters of the Blind . . . as long as his client is banking the $35 million to do so.

And he points out that since there are so many teams bidding for his services, then, obviously, he was and is fully capable of fulfilling his contract with the Celtics.

But he's lying and he knows it.

The only reason other teams are bidding on Baker's services is because they won't be on the hook for the $35 million. Baker was released and cleared waivers. These teams can now bid on his services and the mark has been set substantially lower than the $13.5 million he was due to make this year.

"In the short term, you're only looking at a two-month contract," Knick general manager Isiah Thomas said in the New York Times. "If we were to continue long term, there would be some precautions and some safety mechanisms put in place."

Which brings us back to Baker's original contract.

Prior to signing the seven-year, $86.7 million deal, Baker earned every penny of it. Between his rookie season of 1994 and his first season in Seattle in 1998, he was one of the premier players in the NBA, a four-time all-star, All-NBA third teamer in 1997 and All-NBA second teamer in 1998.

Then came the lockout season of 1999 and Seattle had to make a quick decision on a player it had just acquired from Milwaukee less than two seasons prior.

There were signs that some things might be wrong after his numbers fell to his rookie levels, but the simple fact of the matter was the Sonics could either pay him market value at the time or risk losing their second-best player for nothing.

They paid him and regretted it ever since.

1994-98: 18.4 ppg, 9.2 prg, 1.2 bpg, 50.3% shooting in 37.8 mpg.

1999-present: 12.5 ppg, 6 rpg, 0.7 bpg, 45.8% shooting in 29.4 mpg

Baker was no longer an All-NBA player. He was no longer an all-star. Soon, after being traded to the Celtics in July of 2002, he was questionably no longer a starter.

And, no, he was no longer worth $13.5 million a season.

Now, we know why.

But he was under contract. The same contract, we are led to believe by the Celtics, that had the 10-game clause. But not the contract that the Knicks or the Heat or the Raptors are offering.

"He's pretty talented," Thomas continued. "I mean, he was an all-star and on the Olympic team at one time, so he's a talent, a big-time talent . . ."

The key word here is "was." As in six years ago.

So let's be honest with each other here.

As far as Goodwin is concerned and Hunter and the Celtics and the league and players' union, this has nothing to do with Baker.

This has everything to do with long-term contracts, this one seven years total, with the Collective Bargaining Agreement soon to be back on the table and this very subject a hot point for both sides. Players, their agents and their union want these contracts to be as long as possible for this very reason. Owners, their lawyers and the league want them to be shorter, also for this very reason.

But let's not kid ourselves. If there was a frontcourt player available who put up 20 and 10 like Baker did so many times in his past, then the Celtics would be right there in the bidding for the right to pay him as much money as possible.

And, on the same hand, if the Orlando Magic or Phoenix Suns could find some clause to get out from under similar contracts with Grant Hill and Antonio McDyess, respcetively, they would and we wouldn't even be discussing the Celtics right now.

Because if this were really about the 6-foot-11 son of a Baptist Minister, then we wouldn't be talking about the $35 million owed Baker the basketball player.

Instead, we'd be talking about the $51.7 million he's already been paid on this contract and why the people around him haven't used those resources to help Baker the person.

Schedule will help solidify Spurs' standing

The Dallas Mavericks have won five games in a row and are still four games behind division-leader Minnesota. The Lakers have won seven of their last eight games and are only half a game away from losing home-court advantage in the first round.

Heck, the Utah Jazz have just won four games in a row, are above .500, but are still the worst team in the Midwest Division by two whole games.

Welcome to the Western Conference playoff race of March where 14 games separate 10 different teams and at least one team with a winning record will find itself in the lottery.

By the way, the Memphis Grizzlies just went 10-3 in the month of February and are just as close to achieving home-court advantage in the first round as they are from actually being eliminated from the whole thing.

Western Conference March Schedules

1. San Antonio Spurs
Strength of Schedule: 16 (5 road, 8 quality, 3 b2b)
By the time the Spurs take on the Kings on March 31 in San Antonio, it may very well be for the Western Conference crown. As it stands now, the Spurs are four games behind the Timberwolves for the Midwest title and five games behind the Kings for the Western Conference title. But look at this schedule. Their first three games are at home. Their first road trip consists of two games, three rest days apart, followed by eight of their last 11 games back in San Antonio. And speaking of that Wednesday, March 31 showdown, the Spurs get two days rest after playing Phoenix on Saturday and Cleveland on Monday.

2. Houston Rockets
Strength of Schedule: 17 (6 road, 9 quality, 2 b2b)
The Rockets are currently enjoying the soft pocket of their schedule, where nine of 10 games have been at home and none of them back to back. That's a stretch from Feb. 25 to March 15 that includes only one plane flight to Minnesota on March 5. Of course, five of their last seven games of the month are on the road with five of them against playoff contending teams, but they should be able to pad their four-game cushion between them and the playoff have-nots.

3. Portland Trail Blazers
Strength of Schedule: 17 (6 road, 8 quality, 3 b2b)
They are one game below .500, three games behind that eighth playoff spot and four games away from a span of games that could very well determine their entire season and jeopardize their 21-season playoff run. On March 10, they get the Timberwolves followed by the Kings on March 12 followed by Timberwolves, again, Bucks and Pacers on the road. That's five games from one Wednesday to the next that will either put them into the playoff picture for good or eliminate them.

4. Los Angeles Lakers
Strength of Schedule: 17 (7 road, 7 quality, 3 b2b)
Shaq wants Yao on March 3 in Houston. Gary Payton wants to burn down the Sonics on March 5. And Karl Malone wants a little payback against the Jazz on March 8. Kobe, well, he can audition all he wants for the Clippers on March 17 and March 19. And then comes the Kings on March 24 in Staples Center. Circle it now. Nothing brings together a team like a common enemy. By the time the Lakers finish March, they'll either be poised for yet another playoff run like nothing's ever happened or be at each other's throats, and little may have to do with the outcome of the aforementioned games.

5. Memphis Grizzlies
Strength of Schedule: 18 (8 road, 6 quality, 4 b2b)
Who knows if the Grizzlies will show up in Minnesota and win or stay at home against Golden State and lose as they did last month? This month offers plenty of both after already beating the Spurs in San Antonio (without Duncan) and home games against the Clippers, Sixers and Raptors. They've also got home matches with the Spurs and Pacers as well as road games against the Warriors and Hawks. Win some, lose some, they've got March to get it together before running into a very troubling April.

6. Utah Jazz
Strength of Schedule: 19 (8 road, 7 quality, 4 b2b)
The Jazz can't win without John Stockton. They can't win without Karl Malone. They can't win without Matt Harpring. They can't win last Friday against the Kings. They can't win on Monday against the Pistons. Wrong. Wrong. Wrong. Wrong. And wrong again. So who's to say their next three games against the Pacers, Lakers and Blazers in Portland will be any different? Or the five-game road swing directly following? The Jazz are two games away from that eighth playoff spot, behind the Nuggets, who have lost five of their last games. But they can't possibly beat them in Denver on March 14 or March 27 at home . . . can they?

7. Denver Nuggets
Strength of Schedule: 20 (8 road, 8 quality, 4 b2b)
The Eastern Conference is coming to the Nuggets' doorstep, and if they can get by the Nets, Pistons and Pacers in Denver the first week of the month, and then a three-game road trip to Washington, New Jersey and Milwaukee in the second week, then they can start worrying about their Western Conference standing. They are currently 12-10 against Eastern Conference opponents after going 21-18 against the much tougher Western Conference. Time to correct that or spend the entire summer regretting it.

8. Sacramento Kings
Strength of Schedule: 21 (9 road, 9 quality, 3 b2b)
Chris Webber couldn't have picked a better time to work his way back into the lineup with the Kings opening up against the Clippers, Sixers, Heat, Magic and Warriors. By then, he should be ready for the Mavericks, Blazers, Spurs and Nets. And if he's survived that, then he's got five games in the next eight games. The Kings still have the best record in the league with an all-star power forward to spare. We'll see how he fits into a schedule that gets progressively harder as it gets along, ending with road games against the Lakers and Spurs.

9. Dallas Mavericks
Strength of Schedule: 21 (11 road, 6 quality, 4 b2b)
Not only do they get the Timberwolves and Spurs on their first road trip of the month, they get the Kings on their second trip and the Nets and Pacers on their third. And these aren't your typical carry-on road trips. They'll be gone for four- and five- and eight-day excursions from Los Angeles to New Jersey and Orlando to Minnesota that they may not even notice the five home games against the Sonics, Suns, Hawks, Celtics and Cavs. They very well could win every one of them. They just won't remember them in between all the metal detectors.

10. Minnesota Timberwolves
Strength of Schedule: 23 (8 road, 11 quality, 4 b2b)
If your team is going to the playoffs, then most likely it's playing the Timberwolves this month. In March alone, Minnesota plays the Spurs (twice), Lakers (twice), Mavericks, Rockets (twice), Nuggets (twice) and Blazers. Currently, they've got a four-game cushion on San Antonio but that may not be enough considering the Spurs' easy schedule. Many think that Timberwolves are already pre-occupied with getting out of the first round of the playoffs. Maybe they should be worried about getting there in one piece, first. That could very well be the difference between, perhaps, Dallas and Denver, come Mid-April.

11. Seattle SuperSonics
Strength of Schedule: 27 (11 road, 11 quality, 5 b2b)
This isn't a schedule as much as it is an obituary. Their first three games are on the road against teams going to the playoffs. Their last three game are on the road against teams going to the playoffs. In between, they got home games against the Pistons, Timberwolves and Nuggets as well as a five-game Eastern Conference swing, two of them coming on back-to-back nights. Already five games behind the Nuggets, their playoff run is over before it even begins. R.I.P.

Peep Show

Seattle SuperSonics: Ray Allen isn't quite ready to kiss and make up with Bruce Bowen. "I was at a point where I wanted to fight him," Allen said in the Seattle Times. "I wasn't thinking about playing basketball. I wanted to fight him." In fact, Allen isn't going to be so passive next time, starting with a shot at Bowen's defensive prowess. "Yeah, it's all in the past, but if the same stuff starts happening, then now it's in the present," he said. "I know I'll try and protect myself . . . It's tough when you have Tim sitting inside and Bruce is playing you aggressively," Allen said. "If you beat him, you got Tim there, so his defense is looking pretty good. Without Tim there, it changes. Everything changes."

New York Knicks: Imagine Isiah Thomas' reaction if the Knicks had won their last six games rather than losing them. "I'm extremely pleased with where we are as a team," Thomas said in the New York Post. "Two months ago, it was a tough situation for them and they would have been happy to be sitting in March with the eighth spot [in the playoffs], and we're in the sixth spot." But, then again, he's not too happy. "I didn't expect us to go out West and win," said Thomas. "I thought it was going to be a tough road trip. A lot of teams from the East go out West and struggle. We're no different . . . I don't think [expectations] are ever too high when you want to win. We might, but I don't think we'll win the NBA Finals. I hope they do. Considering what they had to go through with not having [Allan] Houston, I wouldn't trade what they've done for anything now."

Detroit Pistons: Vacation is over for Tayshaun Prince. "I am going to start treating Tayshaun like a young guy instead of him thinking he's a vet," head coach Larry Brown said in the Detroit News. "He's going to start coming over on the first bus and be treated like a rookie now . . . I am going to make it like I used to with all my teams. The young kids come over early and work hard, whether they are starting or not. I think we've taken for granted that he's played a lot and I don't want to do that. We can't have him just being out there." Brown was upset Prince wasn't being as aggressive on offense nor as strong on defense.

Golden State Warriors: Warrior players say that coach Eric Musselman told forward Mike Dunleavy what he thought of his porous defense. Those same Warrior players say that Dunleavy then told Musselman that, "I feel the same way about your coaching." Both parties will deny it now but not other players. "Nothing happened," Dunleavy said in the Contra Costa Times. "We watched film, went through plays. The only thing we talked about was about me playing point guard. That's all I can recall." Ditto for the coach. "We didn't have an exchange," Musselman said.

New Jersey Nets: Don't get Jason Kidd wrong. He'd love to beat his former team, the Suns. But he has other things on his mind. "I would love to play in Phoenix and I would love to play at home, but it all depends on how fast I can heal," Kidd said in the New York Times. "We think we've secured -- if we can end the season on the right note -- having second place in the opening round," said Kidd, who was injured in Sunday's loss to the Los Angeles Lakers. "Our goal is to get better, not to go in lackadaisical, and I want to be healthy going into the playoffs." Kidd hopes to return Friday and will be replaced by Lucious Harris until then. "I'm going to try some 360 alley oops," Harris said. "Nah, but if it presents itself, of course, I'll try it. But I'm not going to get out there and try to be Jason. I don't think anybody in the world can be Jason Kidd."

Miami Heat: Stan Van Gundy wants a shot at the refs, too. "There is not even a controversial call the entire season that's gone the [Heat's] way," he said in the Miami Herald after his team lost Tuesday night to the Raptors. "People keep telling me it evens out. It's not evening out." And Van Gundy says he has evidence. "We go up in Portland and lose a game on a touch foul, and the explanation from [referee] Mark Davis is a call at that point in the game is the same as a call at any other point in the game," Van Gundy said. "Now, Eddie shot fakes a guy off his feet but now when it's us on offense, it's not the same call at the end of a game. We're 0-4 on those calls. In this playoff race, that's a big difference."

03-03-2004, 10:46 PM
i really dispise the players union for this baker b.s. i really wish the nba and the players union both kick him to the curb

if a player can earn in 1 year sitting on the bench more than i can earn my lifetime, there is no way he should get another opportunity. nba is a dreamland. one strike and you are out