Optimistic Baker says his potential is scary

  • RICH MYHRE / Herald Writer
  • Tuesday, October 31, 2000 9:00pm
  • Sports

By RICH MYHRE

Herald Writer

VANCOUVER, British Columbia – Smiling, upbeat and confident would be good words to describe forward Vin Baker in the minutes before the Seattle SuperSonics opened their 2000-01 NBA season.

Would you believe cocky?

“As I’ve said to my family and friends, I’m just scared because of the potential that I have for this season,” Baker said, minutes before the team’s opener against the Vancouver Grizzlies. “I haven’t felt like this in two years, knowing how good I can be this season.”

They are comments that should thrill his Seattle coaches and teammates – providing Baker can back them up.

The last two seasons haven’t been pleasant for Baker, a 6-foot-11 forward and a four-time NBA All-Star.

During the lockout-shortened 1999 season, Baker reported to training camp badly overweight. His condition never improved significantly, in part because a series of injuries kept Baker on the sidelines for 16 of the team’s 50 games. He averaged career lows of 13.8 points and 6.2 rebounds, and was largely held responsible for Seattle finishing 25-25 and missing the playoffs.

Baker was better last season, averaging 16.6 points and 7.7 rebounds, but he still wasn’t in top physical condition. In addition, Baker admitted late in the season that he was battling depression, which seemed to contribute to his often lackluster play.

In the past offseason, Baker devoted himself to his physical training. He also benefited from his experience with the United States Olympic team in Sydney, Australia, and he had eagerly awaited the start of the new season.

“I might not average the same numbers I averaged last year, but I’m scared because I think I’m better than I was the last two years,” Baker said. “It might not show up as 20 (points) and 10 (rebounds) every night, but I have to do the things that will make this team better.

“If we win 60 games, and if I average 13 points and 10 rebounds and two blocks, I’m back. If I score 20 points a game and get 10 rebounds, and if we only win 49 games, who cares?”

Baker was stung during the offseason when he was included in a trade offer to New York for Patrick Ewing. That deal fell through, but Seattle eventually acquired Ewing in a multi-player, multi-team deal that saw the Sonics trade forward Horace Grant and other players instead of Baker.

The bad feelings of August and September have vanished, Baker insisted.

“I’ve really put that out of my mind,” he said. “I’ve been blessed to put that completely behind me. I have no ill feelings toward anyone. I’m just really excited about being on this team, and my whole mindset now is to try to play as well as I can and to try to help this team win as many games as I can.”

This season, said Sonics coach Paul Westphal, “is going to be a major adjustment for Vin. It’s not that we’re not going to go to him, because we are. We’re just not going to go to him as much because we’re going to go to Patrick sometimes.

“Vin has to learn how to be effective off the ball. On the offensive boards, cutting to the basket when they double team Patrick, running on the break and getting the early post-ups. If he can master that, it’s going to make us really tough.”

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