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Knicks beat Heat for Baker's services

PHILADELPHIA -- Vin Baker knows he might be running out of
chances to prove he can stay sober and contribute in the NBA. The
New York Knicks are willing to take a risk the former All-Star can
do both.

The former All-Star signed Friday with the Knicks for the rest of the season,
a day after winning his arbitration case against the NBA. He was
added to the active roster immediately, and coach Lenny Wilkens
said Baker would play Friday night against Philadelphia.

"I'm taking this opportunity as my last chance to come out and
not only play basketball, but as a person, I don't want to make the
same mistakes," the 32-year-old Baker said. "I'm going to try my hardest from day
to day not to make the same mistakes that I've made in the past."

The 6-foot-11 forward was the eighth overall pick by the Milwaukee Bucks in the
1993 draft and a four-time All-Star, but his career took a
troubling turn during his battle with alcoholism that led to his
release by Boston.

Baker was shooting more than 50 percent for the Celtics before
he was suspended -- and subsequently had his contract terminated --
for violating terms of his alcohol treatment program.

Baker said he didn't believe counselors when they told him
relapse would be part of recovery, and he ignored his aftercare
program. Baker put basketball ahead of his alcohol counseling,
which led to a relapse that he said "snuck up on me."

Baker said he wouldn't make that mistake again and was now
following his program.

"This is a disease and I have to take it one day at a time,"
Baker said. "In the last three or four weeks, I've been able to
put that back first in my life."

Thomas was not concerned about Baker's previous troubles and
said testing and counseling would be handled by the team.

"He's coming to a situation where there are people in
management that are very sensitive to the situation and have a very
unique understanding of the situation," said Thomas, whose
brother, Ronnie, died from the effects alcoholism. "You have to
learn from your failures. I think Vin is old enough and mature
enough to accept some of those failures and deal with them a little
better than he dealt with them in the past."

Baker was a free agent after winning his case against the
league. No details about Baker's contract were announced.

Baker considered signing with Miami and visited with Heat
president Pat Riley on Thursday, but decided on the Knicks on the
plane ride back to his Connecticut home. The Knicks are in need of
frontcourt depth and a player who can score in the low post.

"I was torn," Baker said. "It just boiled down to praying
about it. I didn't want to take too long. I wanted to get
acclimated. It's playoff basketball, and I wanted to get with a
team as fast as I could."

Wilkens was happy to have him.

"He understands the post position and he has size," he said.
"He doesn't have to carry the load, that's in his favor, and he
gives us flexibility."

In Baker's grievance against the NBA, argued Monday, arbitrator
Roger Kaplan invalidated a league memo barring all 29 teams from
signing Baker until his grievance against the Celtics is settled.

Kaplan set an initial hearing date of April 12 for that case.

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 in his final year.

The Celtics signed Baker before the 2002-03 season, but he
averaged just 5.2 points 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 1998-99 lockout.

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.

"With the success I had coming back, I thought I had everything
under wraps," Baker said. "I thought everything was back, going
the way it was in Milwaukee. You just have to pay attention to
it."

Now, he's grateful for another chance.

"I'm going to work hard everyday to enjoy this, for my family,
for my friends, for my teammates and for the fans in New York,"
Baker said, as tears filled his eyes. "I'm just grateful to be
here. I just hope it turns out great."

The Knicks also activated guard Moochie Norris, and placed guard
Frank Williams and Cezary Trybanski on the injured list. Norris
missed five games with Achilles' tendinitis.