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Column: Why did the Pacers sign Wes Matthews?

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Wes Matthews is a great player, I just don’t understand why the Pacers signed him.

Charlotte Hornets v Indiana Pacers
Wesley Matthews #23 of the Indiana Pacers passes the ball against the Charlotte Hornets at Bankers Life Fieldhouse on February 11, 2019 in Indianapolis, Indiana.
Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images

I’m not buying all the Wes Matthews hype that the Pacers are desperately trying to sell.

The Pacers’ signing is a great short-term move to stay alive in the race for the three seed in the Eastern Conference. But when looking at the team’s long-term goal of winning a championship, I don’t see the value in the signing.

Once Victor Oladipo got hurt the goal of the team changed. Indiana went from hoping to be the dark horse candidate to win the East to a team that had too many wins to tank and too many veterans with no time to trade them away.

The new goal was simple: do everything in their power to win as many games as possible, but also use this time as an opportunity to develop their future young core of Myles Turner, Domantas Sabonis and Aaron Holiday.

Turner now has the opportunity to take a defining role offensively. He and Sabonis would get the chance to play together for longer stretches to really see if that lineup could work. Holiday would have the ability to play 20 to 25 minutes per game, making rookie mistakes but trying to find the right rhythm so that he could have a significant impact on the team next season.

But wait. Aside from Turner’s offense, none of that is happening due to the Pacers’ signing of Matthews. When thinking short-term, he certainly helps Indiana win more games and make the veterans feel like the team still cares about winning.

But why is that the goal? What does getting to the second round of the playoffs do for the Pacers when six of their top eight players are free agents and the majority of them probably won’t be resigned?

The development of Holiday and Edmond Sumner (and T.J. Leaf to a lesser extent) should have been the Pacers’ goal the minute Oladipo went down. Holiday isn’t having the greatest season -- his shooting splits are 38.2/29.5/88.2 -- but he’s shown flashes of what could become a really good player. NBA players only get better by playing more minutes; sitting on the bench watching doesn’t do anyone any good.

Holiday has scored double-digit points in nine of the 37 games he’s played. Just last week he had a 17 point, 3 assist performance against the Lakers, going 7-10 from the field and 3-4 from three.

Take the Pacers’ two most recent examples of successful player development: Paul George and Turner. Both were allowed to play just over 20 minutes per game throughout their rookie seasons. And although both struggled at times, the short-term pains lead to quicker successes, and by their second year both George and Turner would evolve into valuable starters on playoff teams.

I’ll repeat it: NBA players only get better by playing more minutes. Sitting on the bench watching doesn’t do anyone any good.

I would understand the Pacers’ hesitance to play Holiday if they felt like they had a real chance to win the Eastern Conference, but they don’t (and they’re being naive if they do). The best-case scenario this season is to be the third seed and draw Brooklyn, Miami or Charlotte in the first round, giving them the best shot at winning a series and then losing to either Milawukee or Toronto in the second.

Getting to the second round of the playoffs guarantees the Pacers at least four home playoff games -- which is good for revenue, especially for a team that ranks 25th in the league in terms of salary.

The only way the Pacers can ever reach championship level is by turning Holiday into a valuable starting point guard or trading him for another valuable piece. By signing Matthews and benching Holiday, the Pacers have essentially showed teams just how much they believe in his future, which doesn’t seem to be very much.