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How signing Damien Wilkins, Ben Moore informs on the Pacers’ rebuilding strategy

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The two fringe moves are reflective of how the team weighs the value added by veterans against the opportunity cost of young talent.

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-First Round-SMU vs USC Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

Per team release, the Indiana Pacers have signed free agent swingman Damien Wilkins and undrafted forward Ben Moore. Wilkins reportedly agreed to a one-year, non-guaranteed veteran minimum deal presumably for training camp whereas Moore will be an affiliate player.

Wilkins hasn’t played in the NBA since the 2012-13 season. Since then, he’s bounced around the Chinese Basketball Association, Baloncesto Superior Nacional league based in Puerto Rico, and the G League, averaging 14.8 points, 5.3 rebounds, and 3.7 assists in 31 minutes per game during his most recent campaign with the Greensboro Swarm.

Tellingly, the nephew of nine-time All-Star Domnique Wilkins is not listed on the G-League’s “Top-25 Prospect Watch” from last season, but head coach Nate McMillan is certainly familiar with the 6-foot-6 wing, since he coached him in Seattle. It also seems relevant that Wilkins was playing for Charlotte’s D-League affiliate last season while general manager Chad Buchanan was working for the Hornets, as Mike Scotto of Basketball Insiders pointed out recently.

With Lance Stephenson, Victor Oladipo, Bojan Bogdanovic, and Glenn Robinson III already under contract, devoting a roster spot or training camp invitation to a 37-year-old wing seems like a counter-intuitive rebuilding strategy when that opportunity potentially could have been afforded to a younger player more capable of playing a role within a fast-paced offense and switch-everything defense.

Take Ben Moore, for instance. He lacks a reliable jumper and only averaged 3.8 points and 3.0 rebounds in five games with Indiana’s Summer League team in Orlando, but The Ringer’s Kevin O’Connor pegged the senior out of SMU as having the makings of a successful undrafted player due to his passing ability and defensive versatility.

Granted, Indiana may have signed Moore to a two-way contract, as was the case with second-round draft pick Edmond Sumner. If so, the 6-foot-8 point forward can be called up to the Pacers for a maximum of 45 days, while spending the remainder of the season with the Mad Ants.

Of course, Indiana’s partnership with it’s affiliate is somewhat perplexing.

Because they were already carrying a 15-man roster last season, they never mined Fort Wayne’s talent. This, despite the fact that they had definite need at the position played by Ben Bentil, Jarrod Uthoff, and Alex Poythress. Meanwhile, Joe Young and Georges Niang played in a combined total of eight games with the Mad Ants last season, though they mostly observed idle from the sidelines with the Pacers. It’s possible the new wrinkle in the CBA will improve the fluidity of this relationship, but recent history suggests otherwise.

Based on the signings of Darren Collison and Bojan Bogdanovic as well as several of the interviews Kevin Pritchard gave after being promoted, it’s evident that he views veteran leadership as indispensable to the rebuilding process.

“I don’t believe in tearing it down, because then you can tear down your culture,” Pritchard told the Indy Star. “You can’t teach guys how to win. Some teams are out of the playoffs seven, eight, nine years. We don’t do that.”

It’s debatable whether they should, though. Assessing, for example, whether Thaddeus Young is more valuable as a trade chip or versatile power forward and mentor to Domantas Sabonis, T.J. Leaf, and Ike Anigbogu is a delicate balance.

Today’s signings won’t compare to that decision in the long run, especially since it’s possible that Damien Wilkens and Ben Moore both may never actually play for the Pacers. However, the fact that they were willing to sign the veteran to a zero-risk contract while they assigned the player with more upside but less experience to their affiliate likely says plenty about where they’ll land on similar decisions in the future.

The Pacers currently have 14 players under contract after waiving Kevin Seraphin and signing Damien Wilkens.