The Jalen Smith Center played the best basketball of his career for the Indiana Pacers last season, and that could be a problem for the Pacers franchise.
Smith was bought by Indiana in a February trading deadline – the Pacers sent Torrey Craig when they received Smith and demanded compensation from the Phoenix Suns in a financially motivated move. The exchange was a victory for everyone – Pacers, Suns, Craig and Smith.
Smith was a winner because he went to an Indiana team that was much more focused on developing young players than his previous team in Phoenix. During his first season and a half with the Suns, there were only 18 times in which Smith played more than ten minutes in a game. With the Pacers in less than two months, this has happened 22 times. Pacers had more opportunities for the young man, which was beneficial for his upbringing.
“I see this as a new beginning,” Smith said after being traded. “Taking everything I learned from Phoenix and just trying to bring it here and help in the best way possible.”
The University of Maryland product took full advantage of the growth in minutes. His Pacers numbers skyrocketed – averaging 13.4 points, 7.6 rebounds and 1.0 blocks per game and shooting well from both inside and outside the three-point arc. He intensified his game in all respects with blue and gold and showed why it was the tenth general election in the 2020 draft.
These figures have contributed to winning basketball, at least to some extent. Indiana had a much better rating with Smith on the floor (-1.9) than outside (-3.9) in this campaign, and the number of offenses of their team was extraordinary when the young player on the field it was at stake. Smith has proven to be a valuable player in Indianapolis, which makes his future free agency season fascinating.
Smith’s contract expired at the end of the 2021-22 season, and given his age and production with the Pacers, many teams, including Indiana, will want to sign him to a new deal. But for the Pacers, the team that gave Smith a chance to show what he can do will not be easy to keep the 21-year-old this summer.
That’s because of something that happened while Smith was still in Phoenix. The Suns recruited Smith to tenth place overall in the first round of the NBA 2020 Draft, which meant the big man put ink on a rookie contract that all first-round picks sign when he enters. in association.
A unique part of the scale contracts for beginners is that they have team options in the last two years of the agreement, and that decision of the team option takes place a full season in advance. That meant the Suns had to decide if they wanted to opt for Smith’s third year after his rookie campaign. But after a disappointing first season for the youngster, the Suns gave priority to future savings and turned down the $ 4.67 million option for the third year.
As a result, Smith will be an unrestricted free agent when July 1 comes, which means that 29 teams can offer him any contract they want. But there is a catch that influences the contract that Pacers can extend for the big man in free agency.
If a player has a third-year and / or fourth-year team option denied on a rookie ladder contract, then the current team can only offer him up to the amount of money he would have earned with the scale business. of beginners in the third / fourth season. we have a new contract. This is to prevent teams from intentionally declining the ladder options for beginners, to give young players a huge boost, while they still have control of the team as leverage.
In this case, even if the Pacers were not the team that refused Smith’s team option, they are still his starting team at the end of the second season of his contract on a roster. That means Indiana is limited in what I can offer Jalen Smith free agency this summer – he can’t earn more than $ 4.67 million in blue and gold in 2022-2023 and can’t be paid more. of $ 5.95 million (the fourth amount of the year option would have been worth it) from the franchise in 2023-24. Any other NBA team can give Smith whatever he wants.
Thus, the Pacers are faced with a challenge. The most I can offer Smith in the next two seasons is just over $ 10.6 million, which is probably below his market value, and even to give him so much requires a series of offers a year. . It will be difficult for the organization to maintain its services.
“It’s just a huge off-season,” Smith said of his free agency. “And the scary offseason, because as a young player, you don’t want to make the wrong decision.”
Theoretically, the best offer the Pacers could extend to Smith would include a player option. So, it would be a two-year deal worth that $ 10.6 million, but the big man could give up the deal after a year and get back into free agency. At such a young age, this can be attractive to the center with a career up and down so far.
Just looking at Smith’s tenure with the Pacers would make him look like a blockbuster to get a lot more than $ 4.76 million from a team this offseason. His points per game, recoveries per game and three-point shooting figures with Indiana, in tandem, were matched by only three players throughout the season – Karl-Anthony Towns, Bobby Portis and Christian Wood. The average salary of that trio is over 17 million dollars next season.
But when we include Smith’s production in Phoenix, which wasn’t nearly as strong and featured inconsistent play, it seems more plausible that he might not value much more than the dollar figure the Pacers can offer. . Being a former top-10 pick with a lot of potential, Smith could still make a big deal, but his different impact for two different teams makes him far from a deadlock.
However, the Pacers have a few steps they can take to maximize their chances of keeping their two-year professional in the offseason. One of them gives Smith a chance to play and contribute next year, as Smith noted that the opportunity will play a role in his free agency decision-making process.
“It will be very important,” he said when asked how much he would consider appropriate and the opportunity when choosing his permanent home. From the right perspective, Smith has shown that he and Indiana are a good match in the last 22 games of 2021-22. But the opportunity part is more complicated.
Indiana has Isaiah Jackson, Myles Turner and Goga Bitadze under contract at the center position next season. If all three return to blue and gold, there probably won’t be many minutes available on this field in head coach Rick Carlisle’s rotation, which wouldn’t help Smith develop his career. Without making any moves to free up some playing time, Smith can pick a different team instead of the Pacers this offseason, even if the $ 4.67 million figure is enough money to keep his talents.
And if the Maryland product belongs to the Circle City team, then the Pacers will have the same considerations in the next offseason, but with a contract limit of $ 5.95 million. There are many factors at play that work against Indiana, but if they are willing to make a few moves and promise a few minutes, they have an outside chance to keep Smith in the city.
“This offseason will come down to a lot of things,” Smith said of his free agency. He mentioned that the conversations with his family and his representation will be very important in making decisions. If the Indiana Pacers are to be considered in this decision, they will have to find a way to persuade Smith to stay despite the limitations of the contract. If they are willing to make some sacrifices, they may be able to keep the young man big, but given how well he played last season, he may have already removed the constraints of the franchise.