Why Jalen Smith is unlikely to stay with the team

Jalen Smith was one of many new faces for the Indiana Pacers after the 2021-22 trade deadline, and he made quite the first impression. Despite being the 10th overall pick in 2020, the Suns have made it clear that Smith is not part of their future. After becoming the sixth player to have his third-year rookie option turned down, Smith played just 13.0 minutes in just half of Phoneix Suns games before being traded to Indiana.

The Pacers were more than happy to send Torrey Craig and assume Smith’s expiring contract, but Smith came in and proved to be much more than a salary filler. He’s played in all but four of the Pacers’ last 27 games and averaged 13.4 points, 7.6 rebounds, 1.4 three-pointers and a block with shooting spreads of 53/37/76 in just 24 .7 minutes per game. Those are pretty good numbers for a guy who dropped out before he even started his second year!

Jalen Smith’s contract situation doesn’t favor Indiana Pacers brass

Unfortunately for the Indiana Pacers, whether or not to keep him isn’t really up to them. The excerpt from the NBA‘s Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) is Section 6(m)(4), which you can find below, or you can ignore the legalese and I’ll explain what it says after :

If a player is a veteran free agent after the second or third season of their rookie-scale contract (when the first option year or second option year (as applicable) to extend that contract does not has not been exercised), then any new player contract between the player and the team that signed him for his rookie ladder contract (and/or, if such a contract was subsequently awarded, any team assignee) can provide regular salary, probable bonuses and unlikely bonuses during the first salary cap year until the regular period. The salary, probable bonuses and unlikely bonuses, respectively, that the player would have received for that salary cap year had his first or second option year (as applicable) been exercised.

If you’re reading all of this, you can take a second to uncross your eyes and relax your brain like I should.

All good? We will continue.

Basically this means that if a team declines a player’s Rookie contract option, then any new contract from the team he’s on when free agency rolls in can only sign him for what he would have obtained if his option had been chosen.

Even though the Suns were the team that declined the option, the Pacers are now the team that can only offer the unrestricted free agent a contract worth $4.67 million the first time. year and $5.95 million the second. Compared to other recently signed free agents who are around Smith’s age and level of production, this could turn out to be well below market value.