Jalen Smith bets on himself, re-signs with Pacers for the opportunity: 'I’ve chosen the right team for me'
Smith, 22, was the 10th pick in 2020. "I knew what to expect here and I feel as though the grind here is gonna benefit me a lot more than going somewhere else.”
Rick Carlisle took a gamble on Jalen Smith and it paid off.
Smith is now returning the favor.
When the Pacers completed their third trade before the deadline in February, it was a deal completed with the Suns to send Torrey Craig back to Phoenix and get off his contract for the 2022-23 season while also further distancing themselves from the luxury tax threshold.
That Smith, a 6-foot-10 forward/center, not only became a contributor, but also a Pacer for multiple years is a huge bonus. An unexpected bonus.
“We were super excited and just didn’t know how good this guy was,” team president Kevin Pritchard said.
Smith, meanwhile, felt like a burden was lifted. He was on a championship-caliber team, but had only played in 56 games over his first season and a half.
He was a lottery pick, the 10th pick in the 2020 draft, taken two spots ahead of Tyrese Haliburton. Just imagine Haliburton with the Suns these past two years and him being able to give Chris Paul a lighter workload.
Despite being drafted just two years ago, Smith already had an important decision to make on his future. It’s still unclear why, but the Suns declined their third-year team option on his deal, which made him an unrestricted free agent. And when he was traded, that decision carried with him to Indiana.
When Smith arrived to Indy, it was soon clear that he left the negative energy behind and was grateful for a fresh start. He was eager for a new opportunity, for game reps and for a coach to believe in him.
That, and being promised to start at power forward, is why Smith was back in Indianapolis on Wednesday to sign a contract to remain with the organization.
“Getting traded in the NBA is tough,” Smith said. “… I could’ve gotten traded and got put to the back of the bench like I was in Phoenix. Coach Carlisle gave me the opportunity to get on the court and play my game. I feel as though that was a deal-breaker, at the end of the day, when I wanted to make my decision.
“He could have put me to the end of the bench, but instead he chose to give me that opportunity and I ran with it. That was one of the main reasons I decided to come back.”
By July 1, the first full day of free agency, Smith had made up his mind. Why leave a good situation? It was a mature decision to leave guaranteed money on the table — the ultimate bet on yourself.
The Pacers were limited in what they could offer him, no more than $4.67 million in Year 1. They initially agreed on a two-year deal (as I reported here).
However, over the last few days, the deal was tweaked.
Smith signed a three-year, $15.1 million deal with the Pacers that includes a player option for the 2024-25 season and a trade kicker, a league source told Fieldhouse Files.
So it’s really a two-year, $9.7 million deal with player protections should he get injured or traded. After the first two years, he’ll be free to sign a more substantial deal — with the Pacers or elsewhere — should he outplay the value of his contract, which is expected.
“I’ve chosen the right team for me,” he said. “Every team can have so many different things and you never know what to expect. But I knew what to expect here and I feel as though the grind here is gonna benefit me a lot more than going somewhere else.”