The day after being released by the NBA’s Washington Wizards, former Wichita State All-American Ron Baker was back at Koch Arena on Tuesday for an hour-long workout.
The last month has been a whirlwind for Baker, who was cut by the New York Knicks on Dec. 13, signed less than a week later on Dec. 19 by the Wizards, then waived again on Monday.
What’s next for Baker is unclear in the immediate sense, but the 25-year-old is dead-set on one thing: returning to the NBA, where he has spent the last three seasons.
“One thing I’ve always tried to do in my career is be that tough, hard-nosed, grit kind of player, especially on the defensive end,” Baker told The Eagle. “Hopefully I can get on a team that is a contender, but obviously it’s just nice to be in the NBA. Hopefully that call comes sooner than later, but until then I’m going to keep working hard and be that guy that just doesn’t give up.”
Baker said there was no hard feelings toward the Wizards’ organization. Washington decided to waive Baker this week rather than fully guarantee his $949,000 contract for the rest of the season, which is what would have happened if Baker remained on the roster past this Thursday.
In fact, Baker was grateful for the three-week experience. He appeared in four games, shot 0 for 4 and recorded four rebounds, two assists, one steal and one block in 45 minutes.
“I knew what the possibilities were going into that situation when they signed me a couple of weeks back,” Baker said. “It was honestly an honor to be a part of that organization that has been to the playoffs the past couple of years with John Wall and Bradley Beal at the head of that snake. It was good to be around two All-Stars and see how a franchise runs around those two.
“I always tell people you never know who you’re going to impact when you go to new places and I tried to make my approach every day the best I could and I think in the long run that’s going to pay off for me.”
WSU coach Gregg Marshall was baffled by the Wizards’ decision to cut Baker loose.
“I hate the fact that they let him go,” Marshall said. “I just hope there’s a spot in the NBA somewhere for Ron Baker. It’s amazing to me that there’s not.”
NBA coaches have raved about Baker’s tenacity on the defensive end and his teammates have praised him for the way he handles his business. There’s no question Baker brings value to an NBA locker room, but when it comes to on-the-court performance, Baker knows he has to start knocking down outside shots.
Baker was a career 37 percent three-point shooter on more than five attempts per game while at WSU, but that reliable shooting hasn’t translated yet to the extended arc in the NBA, where Baker has made just 27 percent of his 132 career three-point attempts.
In Tuesday’s workout at Koch Arena, which was spearheaded by former teammate and current WSU graduate assistant J.R. Simon, shooting was the only thing Baker worked on. He would sprint all over the arc and receive passes from WSU managers Kellen Marshall, Connor Shank and Bailey Burns and shoot until he was satisfied with how many made shots he had.
“The managers do a good job of getting guys that are pros in here working out, which is great,” Baker said. “It’s always nice to be welcomed wherever you go. It’s unfortunate I’m not on a team, but it’s nice that (WSU athletic director Darron) Boatright and Coach Marshall welcomed me to come in here and keep working at my craft. Hopefully the phone rings shortly.”
Who will be on the other end of that phone call remains the question.
Baker has built up a NBA pedigree, so he’s optimistic another NBA team may come calling with three months still remaining in the regular season. Baker said the NBA G League or going overseas were also options.
“The good thing about this situation is there’s almost endless opportunities out there,” Baker said. “There’s a lot of season left. The best thing about it is people know what I’m about and know what I need to work on. When I can get on a team, they’ll know what my strengths and weaknesses are and we can put it to the gridiron, get better, and hopefully I can help whoever I’m with.”