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Damien Wilkins' good news-bad news situation in final game with Pacers

From NBA media reports

* Tonight on NBA TV: Bucks vs. Pacers (7 p.m. ET)

It sounds like a harsh good news-bad news situation: The good news is you’re starting tonight’s game, the bad news is you’ll be cut from the team tomorrow. That’s what the chronology of Damien Wilkins’ final hours with the Indiana Pacers suggested, anyway.

As it turns out, Wilkins was told first Saturday that he would be released by Indiana Sunday in advance of his veteran’s minimum contract becoming guaranteed for the rest of the season. Only after that disappointment sank in did Wilkins learn that, at age 37, he would start that night’s game against Chicago at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. Jim Ayello of the Indianapolis Star wrote about Wilkins’ classy handling of his exit:

With Victor Oladipo returning to the team after missing four games, McMillan was determined to get Lance Stephenson and Cory Joseph back into their usual bench roles, so he decided to go a different route: Wilkins.

“It was so poetic to find out I was starting (my last game),” said Wilkins, who defied logic when he returned to the NBA after more than four years away. Wilkins hadn’t started a game since April 17, 2014, but in his last game with Indiana, he took the court for tipoff.

And he made it count, too. In 22 minutes Wilkins scored a season-high 11 points on 3-of-8 shooting, including three 3-pointers, in helping Indiana snap its five-game losing streak with a 125-86 victory over the Bulls.

It hurts to lose a guy like Wilkins, McMillan said, a player he praised for always being ready to play and for being a role model for his young team.

“He was very vocal in the locker room,” McMillan said of Wilkins, who has aspirations of one day coaching or perhaps joining an NBA front office. “He was always talking to guys, grabbing them in game and calming them down, encouraging them and supporting them. In practice, he was that guy who lifted other guys on days they didn’t feel like working. He was normally the first guy in the building to get his work in. He was the pro we thought we were getting.”

It’s possible that the son and nephew of former NBA players Gerald and Dominique Wilkins respectively could be brought back at some point on a 10-day contract. He’ll be sticking around Indianapolis, sticking to his plan of playing this 2017-18 season, showing a drive that made him such a good role model to the younger Pacers.

Said Wilkins: “I hope, based on what people told me all the time around here, that I inspired them in some way to not give up on their dreams.”


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