(We’re counting down the best 20 Bucks since 1991 over the next few weeks. It’s something to do with the lockout sucking the life out of NBA fans. We continue with number 6. Vin Baker. Split Vin Baker’s career in two pieces. The first piece is his Milwaukee career. It was the stuff statistical dreams were made of. Nightly double-doubles, 40 minutes per game, and All-Star appearances galore.
The second piece is the rest of his career. That was the stuff disease is made of. Too much, too soon. A poorly timed trade combining with bad influences in a new city. It all derailed Baker and left his career a shell of what it could have been. But we can look back and remember the good times today. – Jeremy)
Through the late eighties and early nineties, the Milwaukee Bucks draft results looked like the culmination of a strategy session that included throwing darts at pictures spread across a wall and pulling ping pong balls with players faces on them out of a hat. From 1987 through 1992, the Bucks drafted 16 players who played a large role in helping the Bucks assume the role of doormat of the NBA throughout the early nineties.
It wasn’t until the Bucks had but one pick to work with in the draft that they finally started getting it right.
With the eighth overall pick in the 1993 draft, the Bucks selected a little known, gangly power forward named Vin Baker from even less known Hartford University. Despite all those failures in the draft process in the years before, Milwaukee showed supreme confidence in its rookie forward, locking him up for 10 years before the season began. Contracts were absolutely done differently then, but ten years was still quite a lengthy deal for a rookie out of the America East conference.
Beggars could not be choosers though. At least, beggars had to have blind faith that they had finally chosen right if they were going to be choosers. In 1993, Milwaukee had been searching for a reliable post presence since Bob Lanier’s 1984 retirement. Alton Lister was a fine defender, Jack Sikma could hit free throws and stroke jumpers and Moses Malone had a good season, but Milwaukee had largely been devoid of anyone to terrorize opponents down low. So the Bucks jumped in with both feet on Baker.
It paid off almost immediately. After a slow start, Baker finished his rookie season by scoring in double figures in each of the final 40 games. He found himself on the NBA All-Rookie team at season’s end and on the All-Star team in his second season. That was the first of four consecutive All-Star games for Baker, the blossoming power forward Milwaukee had never had, but always been looking for. Of course, Baker alone could not solve all that ailed the Bucks after years of poor drafting and mismanagement. Despite adding Glenn Robinson and later Ray Allen around Baker, Milwaukee continued to lose.
All those losses took a toll on the emotional Baker. With a contract situation looming and after outbursts that included a fight with a teammate in a hotel lobby, Baker, his 20 points and his 10 rebounds were shipped out. Baker never wanted to leave Milwaukee. He enjoyed the quaintness of the city and was not made for the hustle and bustle of a big city. This was not Kareem Abdul-Jabbar looking to get to a big market because he was a cultural dude, quite the opposite in fact. But, Milwaukee felt it was time for a change.
They wanted to get back value on Baker and knew the longer they waited, the less likely that would be. Baker had an opt-out clause after the 98-99 season – the clock was ticking. After turning down a nine year, $60 million deal, Baker knew a trade was likely, whether he wanted it or not.
The Bucks decided they could recoup what the lost with Baker by adding Terrell Brandon, who some considered the best point guard in the league at the time and Tyrone Hill, a dirty work power forward who wasn’t the scorer Baker was, but was a more than adequate rebounder and defender.
Just like that, a week before training camp was set to open in 1997, Milwaukee had parted with the greatest power forward it had ever known. The team, after a bit more tinkering, would go on to almost great things. Baker though, was beginning a downward spiral that would take him from the All-NBA second team to rehabilitation centers and inpatient treatment programs.
As a Buck though, Baker’s performance on the court was nearly infallible. He wasn’t there when Milwaukee got over the hump and into the playoffs. He wasn’t there when the Bucks broke through and won the Central Division. And he wasn’t there when the team topped Charlotte in seven games in the Eastern Conference semifinals, but Baker was apart of it.
He was the first part of it.
Jeremy Schmidt writes the Milwaukee Bucks blog Bucksketball.com. Follow him on Twitter and become a fan on Facebook.