MINNEAPOLIS -- Looking for perhaps the final stop on a
career filled with All-Star appearances and alcohol problems,
Vin Baker turned to two familiar faces from his past.
He signed a nonguaranteed contract with the Minnesota Timberwolves on Monday, coming to play for a former coach in Dwane Casey and a former mentor in Kevin McHale.
"I just felt like it was the right fit," said Baker, entering
his 14th NBA season.
Baker worked with Casey when the coach was an assistant in
Seattle and also volunteered at McHale's basketball camp in Cape
Cod, Mass., when Baker was in college at Hartford.
"I know his issues. I know his disease," Casey said. "But the
core of Vin Baker is a good person. Does that guarantee that he's
going to fight those demons and fight that situation? I can't
guarantee that. I know he is a good person."
The four-time All-Star averaged 3.4 points and 2.4 rebounds in
spot duty for the Los Angeles Clippers, and has averaged 15.0
points and 7.4 rebounds in 13 NBA seasons. He played with
Timberwolves star Kevin Garnett on the Olympic team in 2000, but
has also battled alcohol and depression issues.
He was cut by the Celtics midway through 2003-04 and later
admitted to binge drinking in his hotel room after playing poorly
and showing up to practice with alcohol on his breath.
"It took that for me to grow as a person," Baker said. "Where
God has me right now, I'm very happy in my life. ... I just want to
show fans and players in the league that you can overcome. If you
stay with it and work hard, believe in yourself and trust in God,
things can work out."
The Timberwolves hope he can act as a mentor to forward
Eddie Griffin, who has struggled with alcoholism himself and had several
run-ins with the law.
Baker said he looks forward to having the chance to help him.
Baker spent the summer in Houston working out with former coach
John Lucas, who specializes in helping players with drug and
alcohol addictions, Griffin and a host of other NBA players.
"I definitely hope I can be an inspiration on Eddie," Baker
said. "I certainly hope I can be an influence and help him. I
think he's a tremendous young talent and a tremendous young kid."
If he makes the team, Casey wants Baker to provide some of the
veteran leadership lost when the Timberwolves cut ties with center
Ervin Johnson before last season.
Baker, who turns 35 next month, said he feels great physically.
Once weighing close to 300 pounds at the height of his troubles,
Baker is a trim 250 and ready to help a thin Minnesota frontcourt.
"I still think there's a lot in the tank to offer," Baker
said. "I think I can come and help relieve Kevin, score down low.
There's a lot left and I've worked my butt off this summer to get
ready to come and contribute."