Baker clears waivers, released by Celtics

Updated: February 18, 2004, 5:42 PM ET
Associated Press

BOSTON -- Vin Baker's short, disappointing stay with the Boston Celtics may be over.

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 2 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 future.

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 for comment.

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 again.

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 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.

Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press