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  Thu, February 26, 2004


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The Last Word
Vin Baker may not be on every NBA team's wish list, but with the way the Raptors are playing of late, they should give this guy a look.

By BILL HARRIS -- Toronto Sun

If the Raptors haven't kicked Vin Baker's tires already, they should.

With 25 games remaining in the season and an NBA playoff berth hanging in the balance, why the heck not?

Is Baker a risky proposition? Not necessarily, since he probably will end up signing a short-term deal through to the end of this season in the hopes of proving himself and entering the free-agent market this summer.

And if the Boston Celtics, who earlier this month waived Baker because of his continuing battle with alcohol, wind up on the hook for most of the $35 million US that was left on his contract, Baker may be willing to sign for a prorated, veterans-minimum salary, which is a relative pittance.

Baker's agent, Aaron Goodwin, claimed in media reports this week that nine teams have called him to ask about Baker, and the bulk of those teams have "an opportunity" to be in the playoffs. Goodwin did not return phone calls from The Toronto Sun yesterday.

Nonetheless, there are rumours around the league that the Raptors are one of the teams that has made a preliminary inquiry about Baker. Raptors general manager Glen Grunwald would not confirm that when contacted yesterday, in keeping with his longstanding policy of not commenting on these types of matters.

Regardless, it says here the Raptors should be aggressive and give Baker a call, or, as the case may be, a second call. Baker, a 32-year-old, 11-year NBA veteran who has the ability to average, say, 15 points and eight rebounds, certainly would give the Raptors a boost at the power-forward position, provided his head is in the right place.

Baker, who averaged 11.3 points and 5.7 rebounds in 37 games with the Celtics this season, worked out in front of TV cameras on Tuesday and predictably declared himself ready to go. But even if he's not, there's no significant risk in checking him out. Baker apparently may visit some cities, but at this point he has no intention of going through any individual team workouts.

Reports out of New York say Goodwin is pushing Baker toward the Knicks, and that indeed may be true. But to be blunt, the Raptors' attitude should be, well, screw the Knicks. And screw the Los Angeles Lakers and the Dallas Mavericks, too, since they also are said to be interested in Baker. The Raptors need to start behaving as if Toronto is a great place to be again, rather than acting as if the fight is over simply because the mighty Knicks are involved.

Baker hopes to get the go-ahead from the National Basketball Players Association to sign with a new team within the next few days, but it remains to be seen how quickly this matter will proceed. The players association obviously is reluctant to give Baker the green light until it knows a new pact won't jeopardize the money it believes the Celtics still owe him.

On Tuesday the association filed a grievance on behalf of Baker. At the time his contract was terminated, Baker had missed 10 games while on suspension for violating terms of his alcohol-treatment program. The Celtics' argument is that by breaking the terms of his aftercare, Baker did not live up to a clause in his contract.

Watching the Raptors, who were missing the injured Vince Carter, Jalen Rose and Alvin Williams, play host to the woeful Washington Wizards last night, one could not help but think a player like Baker could have impacted the proceedings. And even more importantly to the bean-counters at Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment, Ltd., the rows of empty seats at the Air Canada Centre were a reminder that the Raptors need to make the playoffs this season or risk a true alienation of their dwindling fan base.

Maybe Baker is a lost cause, in terms of both his personal demons and the Raptors' chances of landing him. But it still is worth an investigation on the Raptors' part. It may be time for a bold move as another grey season for this franchise winds down.

Baker is a long shot, but he might be worth a shot. Really, what do the Raptors have to lose?









Do you like the new-look Raptors heading into the 2013-14 NBA season?
  Yes, new GM made great moves
  No, they will still be a terrible team
  Unsure what to make of it


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