Nate McMillan and Damien Wilkins on Wilkins' Impact on Team

January 7, 2017 - With the news that Damien Wilkins was waived by the team, Pacers head coach Nate McMillan spoke about Wilkins' contributions to the team, and Wilkins talked about what's next following his time with the Pacers.

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Nate McMillan and Damien Wilkins on Wilkins' Impact on Team

January 7, 2017 - With the news that Damien Wilkins was waived by the team, Pacers head coach Nate McMillan spoke about Wilkins' contributions to the team, and Wilkins talked about what's next following his time with the Pacers.
Jan 7, 2018  |  03:42

Wilkins Starts, Then Has to Stop

by Mark Montieth
Pacers.com Writer
@MarkMontieth

Damien Wilkins found out about 2 p.m. on Saturday he was going to be waived by the Pacers the next day. A few hours later, he was told he was going to start in that night's game against Chicago.

How's that for mixed emotions? The 37-year-old forward, who had become one of the NBA's best stories by earning a spot on the Pacers' roster despite being out of the league since the 2012-13 season, knew Sunday would bring an ominous deadline for him. He just didn't expect to go out with his first start of the season.

NBA teams had until the close of business on Sunday to waive players with non-guaranteed contracts to allow them a chance to be picked up by another team before the Jan. 10 deadline, when all contracts become guaranteed. Wilkins was one of those players, and knew all along he was an at-risk player.

"I've been in this business long enough to not be surprised by anything," he told the assembled media after talking with Pacers president of basketball operations Kevin Pritchard, general manager Chad Buchanan and, separately, coach Nate McMillan.

"Things like this happen. Businesses got to make business decisions. That's the tough part of this business for guys like me."

Wilkins, who began his NBA career in 2004 and played nine seasons before his four-year sabbatical, averaged just 1.7 points over the 19 games in which he played, for a total of 152 minutes. He scored 33 points, and hit just 33 percent of his field goal attempts and 22 percent of his 3-point attempts.

His primary value to the team, however, was as a mentor. He sat next to the coaches during games, playing the role of a quasi-assistant, and spoke up frequently during timeouts and in the locker room. He also had many and memorable individual conversations with teammates, such as the one he had over dinner with Myles Turner on Friday.

"That was one thing among many I'll take from this whole experience," Wilkins said. "I would have regretted not having that conversation had we not had it. It showed me the impact I have on guys, just having that conversation with him.

"I'm glad I was able to connect with him and influence something."

Wilkins, who turns 38 on Jan. 11, battled through four years in the minor leagues before getting an invitation to the Pacers' training camp after talking with McMillan and Pritchard at the Las Vegas Summer League. He arrived early to begin working out with other players, and established himself as a viable candidate. He went on to play in three preseason games and averaged 7.8 points while hitting 50 percent of his field goal attempts and 42 percent of his 3-pointers.

While he had longstanding relationships with McMillan, Buchanan and McMillan, who was his first NBA coach, he wasn't guaranteed anything - as was proven on Sunday.

"It wasn't given to me," Wilkins said. "I earned it. I'm proud of that. No one can take that away from me. I know how I played in preseason and in training camp. I can walk away from it right now (knowing) I earned it."

He doesn't want to walk away, though. He said he'll stay in Indianapolis for at least a couple of weeks with his fiancée, Jasmine. He was told the possibility remained that he could be re-signed to a 10-day contract, and will take time to determine his next move if another playing opportunity doesn't come.

If not, he'll always have Saturday's fond farewell. The starting opportunity came as a surprise, but Bojan Bogdanovic was declared out of the game against the Bulls with a sprained ankle late in the afternoon, forcing McMillan into what he called a "rush decision." With Victor Oladipo returning from a four-game absence, McMillan wanted to keep Lance Stephenson and Cory Joseph in their normal roles off the bench.

Wilkins played only 9 minutes, 10 seconds in the first half, but got in for 13 minutes in the second when the Pacers clinched the outcome early. He scored a season-high 11 points and hit 3-of-6 3-point shots in 22-plus minutes of action and didn't commit a turnover. He held his own defensively, too, blocking a shot on Chicago's opening possession.

Knowing his impending doom before the game helped him relax.

"That was the easiest game I've ever played," he said of the Pacers' 39-point victory. "At that point in time you knew your fate. There was no pressure. I just didn't want it to end. It was so poetic to find out I was starting and I knew (I would be released)."

Asked following Saturday's game about Sunday's deadline, Wilkins didn't let on, saying only if he was released he would be grateful for the opportunity. He practiced with the team on Sunday, but kept his secret then as well. The fact Bogdanovic was released by the training staff to play on Monday helped seal his fate.

Wilkins hadn't talked with teammates before his met with the media, but planned to call each of them Sunday evening. Meanwhile, he aired no complaints about his improbable dream cut short.

"It's been the absolute best," he said. "I can't even put it into words. It's been an unbelievable feeling to have the impact my teammates tell me I have on them in the locker room, and to be effective on the floor in the minutes I've gotten to play. It's been an unbelievable journey."

McMillan said he knew of no candidates to fill Wilkins' roster spot yet, but was pleased with what he got from the veteran wing.

"Everything we were looking for from him, we got, even more," McMillan said. "With such a young group, we wanted a guy who could come in and fill in if we needed him to play, who would have himself ready to play.

"He was the pro we thought we were getting. (But waiving players) is part of our business and we have to go through with it."

Glenn Robinson III, out all season with a high ankle sprain suffered in training camp, practiced with his teammates for the second time on Sunday, although only in halfcourt drills. While McMillan said Robinson is not close to returning to game action, Robinson said he holds out hope of returning before the All-Star break, which begins on Feb. 15.

"I'm going to try," he said. "I'm going to do everything I can to try. I'm really itching to get out there. They're not telling me an expected time; all I know is I'm feeling great these past three days."


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