MILWAUKEE -- Returning from a three-game suspension for noncompliance with his aftercare program for alcoholism, Celtics forward Vin Baker arrived at the Bradley Center on the second team bus at 5:20 last night. Excused from shootaround by coach Jim O'Brien, Baker participated in the pregame warmup, the first time he rejoined his teammates since the suspension went into effect Jan. 6. Following the Celtics' 111-103 loss to the Bucks -- in which Baker did not play -- he spoke publicly for the first time since rejoining the team.
"My biggest thing is I'm just glad to be back on the team," said Baker. "I apologize to my family and to the fans of Boston. I'm just glad to have an opportunity to regroup and be back on the team. That's basically it."
Asked how long it would take to reacclimate to NBA play, Baker said, "Honestly, I'm just glad to be back. It's been a rough five days.
"I'm not sure how long it will take. I want to go out and work hard every day. When I get my opportunities to go out on the court and work, I'm going to do that and go from there."
Prior to shootaround, O'Brien spoke with Baker for the first time since the start of the suspension and said afterward that he wanted to talk with him again to discuss at length "whether or not he's ready to come back and deal with all of this -- whether or not he wants to join the team tonight." While O'Brien would not divulge specifics of his conversations, it was clear Baker wanted to get back on the court. Baker started an extra-long warmup around 5:40, greeting teammates and Celtics staff members as he made his way around the court for a series of midrange jumpers and free throws. Paul Pierce said it was "good to have him back and see him smiling."
However, Baker stayed on the bench for the entire game, in uniform, and it is uncertain when he will play.
"Our challenge and his challenge is to get him back into playing shape as soon as possible," said O'Brien. "This is not the ideal time for this situation to happen because we have back-to-back games [Milwaukee last night and Houston tonight]. We don't have a shootaround [today], so the first real chance will be Thurdsay prior to going down to Orlando.
"We will accelerate his conditioning and his being able to play as quickly as possible. Our best hope and his best hope is the same thing -- that he's able to attack this challenge and succeed at it and become a productive member of our basketball team."
O'Brien would not say what Baker has done over the past week to address his relapse, but the coach pronounced himself "comfortable" with Baker back on the team and confident at some point in the future Baker will contribute to the Celtics again. However, another incidence of noncompliance with his aftercare would constitute a "third strike" and push Baker precariously close to the termination of his contract with two-plus years and approximately $35 million remaining.
"He has to get in shape," said O'Brien. "He has to understand the new plays that we've put in and get practice time. My sincere wish and his is that at some point in the not-too-distant future -- and I can't see into a crystal ball -- that he will be a big contributor for us this year."
Still, the coach remains a realist, knowing that a battle against alcoholism is difficult to wage while playing in the NBA. He has set no timetable for Baker.
"He has a considerable challenge in front of him. For me to say that I'm 100 percent sure he's going to win that challenge would be nonsensical, really."