How Jalen Smith's unique contract makes it difficult for the Pacers to re-sign him
He was acquired at the trade deadline, but the Pacers are limited in what they can offer him in free agency. It's the fault of his previous team.
When the Pacers acquired Jalen Smith at the trade deadline, they were aware of the uniqueness of his contract that may mean he’s only in Indy for the rest of this season.
Smith was the 10th overall pick in the 2020 draft, taken two spots ahead of Tyrese Haliburton. He’s just 22 years old and had not gotten much of an opportunity until he changed uniforms once the Pacers and Suns reached agreement on a deal before the deadline in early February.
The primary purpose of the deal for the Pacers was simple: Moving veteran Torrey Craig back to his former team, which has the best record in the NBA and is the driver’s seat for a return trip to the finals. They saved about $400,000 in cap space this season and are off the hook for the $5 million guaranteed to Craig for next season. It opened up playing time for younger guys and as a nice bonus, they got a lottery pick included.
“I view this as a new beginning,” Smith said. He wasn’t shocked to be included in the deal. He was on a championship-caliber team and playing time was scarce.
Smith, though, is more than a throw in for the Pacers. However, the Suns’ decision to decline his third-year rookie option before the season traveled with him to Indiana.
So what does that mean? Smith, a 6-foot-10 center from Virginia, becomes an unrestricted free agent on July 1.
The Pacers are eligible to re-sign him, they just cannot offer him more than he would have earned from the team option: $4.67 million. (If it was possible, teams may use it as a way to compensate star players sooner, and players and their agents would absolutely push for it.)
The Pacers have this limitation whereas the other 29 teams do not. I spoke with two Eastern Conference salary cap managers to confirm the Pacers’ options.