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Commissioner backs Celtics on Baker

Stern: By 'violating' contract, player 'subject to termination'

LOS ANGELES -- Following a press conference yesterday afternoon at which he addressed various issues concerning the state of the NBA, commissioner David Stern discussed with the Globe where the league stands with regard to the Vin Baker situation.

"We agree with the team's position and we will support [the Celtics] completely," said Stern. "They did it in consultation with us. The player has an obligation to appear for games and present himself in good physical condition. And he hasn't."

When asked whether he thought alcoholism had prevented Baker from presenting himself in "good physical condition," Stern added: "I'm not going into the reason he's not presenting himself in good physical condition under the contract. We support the team. He's violating the contract and he's subject to termination."

The Celtics placed Baker on waivers Friday, after the 10th game of his indefinite suspension for noncompliance of his alcohol after-care program. It was the team's first step toward terminating the power forward's contract, worth approximately $35 million over the next two-plus seasons. Players Association president Billy Hunter said the union will fight Boston's move, saying, "We're not going to let this be some new precedent, a way for teams to try to get out of their responsibilities under the guaranteed contract provisions of the collective bargaining agreement."

Stern is not concerned about whether the Baker case sets a precedent. "It is what it is," he said. "If it's precedent-setting, we'll bargain about it and change it. That's what happens. We want it to be precedent-setting in favor of the team, because players should, for their several million dollars, be in a position of presenting themselves for performance under the contract."

In the end, Stern believes it's likely the matter will be handed to an arbitrator.

After move, moving on

Paul Pierce took time out from the All-Star festivities to voice his opinion about Baker being placed on waivers.

"I'd like to see this whole deal get past me," said Pierce. "It's been a whole year and a half now. I'd just like to let this go by at this point. It's been back and forth for so long now that it can drain you if you let it get to you mentally. So, I just try to stay out of it, and hopefully it will be past us soon."

The Baker situation, said Pierce, has been a distraction "to a certain degree." "There's nothing we can do about it," said Pierce. "We have to move on and continue to play. I think a number of guys are ready to just let it go by."

Out of his league

In other legal matters, Stern took a strong stand against the court decision rendered in the case of former Ohio State running back Maurice Clarett. The judge ruled that the NFL's restriction on when players can enter the draft violated antitrust rules. "The Clarett decision was wrongly decided, as a matter of law, and will likely be reversed on appeal," said Stern. "I want to say that my views about having an age limitation don't go to whether I think players can make it or contribute in this league. Of course, we have enough of a history here with respect to Kobe [Bryant], Tracy [McGrady], Rashard [Lewis], Jermaine [O'Neal]. My view [concerns] the influence that that's going to have prospectively on youngsters on what they do with their lives and what they aim for -- a youngster who thinks he's coming to the NBA is, I think, as Arthur Ashe pointed out, much more likely to be a rocket scientist or a brain surgeon than an NBA player." . . . With regard to negotiating a new collective bargaining agreement, Stern identified the two key financial issues he has targeted. No. 1, he believes the percentage of money from league revenues paid to players (57 percent next season) is too high. No. 2, he would like to keep more veterans on rosters and is considering creating financial incentives to do that. One such incentive could be not having veterans' salaries count against the cap . . . As if the All-Star break was not long enough, an extra day will be added next season. The so-called "All-Star Weekend" will last five days instead of four . . . Also, the league and players association agreed in a meeting yesterday that veterans should come to training camp with rookies. Training camp will proceed as it had prior to this season, when players with fewer than four years of service reported Sept. 29 and those with four or more years reported Oct. 2 . . . The NBA is sending Yao Ming home. The league announced it will stage two exhibition games in China between Yao's Houston Rockets and the Sacramento Kings before next season, marking the first time a US professional sports league will play in the world's most populous nation.

Door slams on Davis

All-Star Saturday concluded with the slam-dunk contest at Staples Center. Ricky Davis was the first player to compete, and the Celtic did not get the contest off to a rousing start. He scratched on his first try, then failed to convert on his first "official" attempt. With players allowed to replace one try, Davis elected to replace his first one, and he nailed a 360-degree dunk for 45 points. But the early miss haunted Davis. On his second official attempt, Davis tried to pass the ball between his legs and finish with a two-handed reverse dunk. He didn't put the ball in the hoop, and the attempt had to stand. He was given 31 points, not enough to advance to the final. "I missed that first one and it kind of messed me up," said Davis. "I had to replace that. Plus there were a lot of 50s [perfect scores] out there. But I had a great time. It was wonderful. I'll be in it next year, and maybe we can get like six or seven dunks instead of four. I've still got a few more dunks [to show]." Indiana's Fred Jones won the contest, defeating two-time defending champion Jason Richardson of Golden State. "I told all my boys last night that I was going to give it all I've got," said Jones. "They have more confidence in me than I did." . . . Denver's Voshon Lenard won the 3-point Shootout, and Baron Davis of the Hornets took the Skills Challenge title.

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