From the city park in Utica (population: 145) to Central Park in New York City (population: 8,623,000), Ron Baker has had one of the more improbable journeys to the NBA.
But Baker’s future is now in limbo after the New York Knicks announced on Thursday they are releasing him to make room to sign Allonzo Trier. Baker has played for the Knicks the last three seasons since finishing off an All-American career at Wichita State, and his hustle and determination have made him a fan favorite.
“NYK was truly great to me,” Baker posted on Twitter on Thursday afternoon. “My family, friends and I can’t thank you enough! 8 year old RDB at the Utica KS park appreciated it!”
Baker made 14 starts and appeared in 92 games over three seasons with the Knicks, posting career averages of 3.3 points, 1.8 assists and 1.5 rebounds over 14.7 minutes. Baker had only appeared in 11 of New York’s 29 games this season, averaging 1.3 points and 1.2 assists in 9.7 minutes per game.
“Ron is a true professional and we thank him for all of his contributions during his time with the Knicks,” Knicks president Steve Mills said. “His dedication and passion for the game are unquestioned and have been truly appreciated by our fans and organization. We wish him all the best.”
For an end-of-the-bench player, Baker was one of the most popular Knicks. He won over fans as an undrafted free agent during his rookie season with his hustle and determination. Former Knicks star Carmelo Anthony referred to him as “Ron Burgundy,” the character from the movie Anchorman. This past Halloween, kids even dressed up as Baker in New York City.
Eyebrows were raised when the Knicks awarded Baker a two-year, $8.9 million contract after that first season, but he had inspired confidence in general manager Phil Jackson and coach Jeff Hornacek. But Baker was unable to live up to the contract.
Injuries derailed his second season, limiting him to 29 games, then Jackson and Hornacek, his two biggest believers, were fired and a coaching change didn’t afford Baker the playing time he needed to make an impression this season.
Baker’s effort made him stand out on defense and he tried to show value as a second-unit point guard able to distribute and run an offense, but his shooting never translated to the NBA. In his three years with the Knicks, Baker shot 36 percent from the floor and 27 percent on three-pointers.
So what’s next for Baker?
For starters, Baker’s contract was guaranteed, so he will receive the full $4.5 million owed to him this season.
As for playing again, Baker will have options.
There’s a slim chance another NBA team could be interested in signing Baker to a minimum contract for the rest of the season. He has earned a reputation as a gritty player and a good presence in the locker room, traits that could be valuable to a team trying to establish a winning culture.
If a NBA team doesn’t sign him and Baker wants to stay in the United States, then finding a job in the G League, the NBA’s developmental league, would be the best option. The players don’t make very much money, but the upside is Baker could remain close to the watchful eye of NBA scouts and try to make an impression that way.
But if Baker wants to maximize his earning potential for the rest of this season, he could make the most money playing overseas. WSU coach Gregg Marshall currently has 19 former Shockers playing in 14 different countries. With his label of playing in the NBA, Baker shouldn’t have much trouble finding a foreign club wanting to bring him in.