The Celtics released Baker on Wednesday after the forward
cleared waivers following his suspension for violating the terms of
his alcohol treatment program.
The move terminates Baker's contract, and may allow the team to
avoid paying Baker the $36 million he's owned for the remaining 2½
years on his contract. It also is likely to initiate a showdown
between the team and the NBA players' association.
The union has said it would file a grievance over any attempt to
void the contract. That could thwart the Celtics' plan to release
him, but Celtics attorney Neil Jacobs said Baker
wasn't ready to play as his contract required, and the team had a
right to release him.
"He has not been performing and that is the basis of the
decision," he said.
Jacobs added that there was "sadness" about releasing Baker, a
Connecticut high school star whose return to New England was viewed
as a homecoming.
"The team had always hoped that the issues Vin has been
involved with would be worked out," he said.
The team placed Baker on waivers last Friday after he missed the
10th straight game of his latest suspension for violating the terms
of his alcohol rehabilitation aftercare agreement. That triggered a
clause in the agreement that gave the Celtics control over his
Baker missed two months and the playoffs last year after he
checked into a Connecticut rehab center. He agreed at the time to a
follow-up program this season that would involve frequent testing.
Baker failed to meet the terms of the agreement at least three
times before being suspended indefinitely on Jan. 23. According to
the agreement, only a doctor agreed to by both sides could
determine when he's ready to return. The doctor didn't clear Baker
to play before the suspension reached 10 games, giving the team the
right to release him, said Jacobs, adding that the Celtics did all
they could to help Baker.
"It's difficult to imagine the team could have done more for
Vin than it's done," he said.
Baker's agent, Aaron Goodwin, could not immediately be reached
The matter is now likely to wind up in arbitration. Billy
Hunter, head of the National Basketball Players' Association, said
last week that Baker's contract is guaranteed and the union will
fight any attempts at "subterfuge."
"(Baker) still has all of the rights and protections that exist
in every guaranteed contract," union spokesman Dan Wasserman said.
In his last public comments last Thursday, Baker issued a
statement saying he'd done everything required of him to remain in
compliance with his program and he was awaiting clearance to play
The 6-foot-11 Baker was the eighth overall pick by the Milwaukee Bucks in the 1993 draft. He played in four consecutive All-Star
games from 1995-98.
Baker averaged 21 points and 10 rebounds over his last two
seasons in Milwaukee before he was traded to Seattle for the
1997-98 season. He spent five years in Seattle, averaging 14.1
points per game in his final year.
The Celtics signed Baker before the 2002-2003 season, but he
averaged just 5.2 points per game before he was suspended on Feb.
27, 2003 amid reports of a drinking problem. Baker later said he
was an alcoholic who began binge drinking during the 1998-1999
After treatment, he returned in better shape and determined to
make it up to his teammates.
He scored in double figures in 21 of his first 35 games, but
then his production dropped off again.