INDIANAPOLIS — Jalen Smith had options. The free forward, who was traded from the Suns to the Pacers last season, did not have to stay in Indiana. He had suitors who could have offered a bigger contract, but it wasn’t about the money for Smith.
The Pacers were the team that took a chance on him before he found his footing and started showing why he was a lottery pick. And for that reason, Smith will sit down and officially sign with Indiana at a press conference at their practice facility on Wednesday.
“In the end, I chose my future over instant gratification,” said Smith, who anointed coach Rick Carlisle on the team’s starting power. “I feel like that was the biggest part. You don’t want to take on such a big task so early in life instead of working towards it and missing it in the future, and that was just about the most important that went through my head all the time.
“‘What do I want to do? Do I want to satisfy that hunger for the future or do I not want to settle down but just take the easy road?’ And I felt like Indiana would help me build the future I wanted.”
The earliest free agent deals could go official on Wednesday, and while the terms of Smith’s deal were not disclosed, HoopsHype.com reported that Smith signed a $15.1 million three-year contract with 2024-25 player options with a 10% discount. salary increase if he is traded.
ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reported on July 1 that Smith agreed to a two-year deal worth $9.6 million.
Sources: The Indiana Pacers have signed Jalen Smith to a $15.1 million three-year deal, which includes a 2024-25 season player option and a 10 percent trade kicker, @hoopshype has learned.
It once seemed nearly impossible to keep the 6-10 forward at that price, especially given the limitations the Pacers had.
After being drafted 10th overall by the Suns in 2020, Smith’s third-year rookie option was rejected — only the sixth first-round appearance in league history — and he was traded from Phoenix to Indiana.
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Since the Pacers acquired Smith, they still had to abide by the rules of his rookie contract and could offer him up to $10.6 million over the next two seasons. That amount seemed well below market value after Smith starred in Indiana.
“We would have to face some restrictions to re-sign him because of some crazy rules. But in the end, he really felt at home here,” said Carlisle. “I had the chance after the season to go to the Baltimore area and sit and have dinner with him, his mother, Lisa, his father, Charles and his sister, Kiara, along with (his agent Mike Kneisley). thing Lisa and Charles both said about Jalen’s experience with Indiana: “It was great to see him smiling again.”
“Indiana became a very warm place for him and his family, and he has signed up here to be our starting force forward.”
Smith averaged 13.4 points and 7.6 rebounds as he shot a total of 53.1% and 37.3% on 3s in 22 games for the Pacers. He scored six double-doubles, including 15 points and 15 rebounds off the bench in a win over Orlando on March 3.
The 22-year-old thanked Carlisle for giving him a chance, despite it being unproven. Prior to Indiana, Smith averaged 4.1 points and 3.1 rebounds in 56 games for the Suns. He averaged 9.6 minutes per game compared to 24.7 minutes with the Pacers.
“You never know what’s going to happen. I could have been traded and gone to the back of the bench like I was in Phoenix, but Coach Carlisle gave me that chance to just get on the field and play my game. I have I feel like that was a deal breaker for me when I wanted to make my decision,” Smith said. “He could have sent me to the end of the bench, but instead he chose to give me that chance, and I walked away with it.
“That was one of the main reasons I decided to come back.”
Smith will join starting star point guard Tyrese Haliburton, who has credited Carlisle for helping Smith excel with the Pacers, this year’s No. 6 pick Bennedict Mathurin and sophomore players and 2021 first-round picks Chris Duarte and Isaiah Jackson. Carlisle likened Smith’s acquisition to adding a new lottery pick to their young core, and Pacers team chairman Kevin Pritchard feels the same way.
Pritchard named Smith “priority (No.) 1” on the team’s free desk to-do list, and it was clear on Wednesday. Smith signed his contract in front of dozens of Pacers Sports & Entertainment employees as he sat next to Pritchard and Carlisle on a stage being temporarily constructed on the same field where he will continue to practice.
Smith said he didn’t speak to any of his teammates during the free agency trial because he didn’t want them to influence his decision. Luckily for them, his 22-game stint earlier this year was pretty convincing.
“They already thought I was coming back,” said Smith, who trained with Haliburton and others at the Pacers practice facility this summer. “Not many people come back for optional free agent training. They kind of figured it out before I knew it, but they were all excited when they heard the news, and I’m just happy to be back.”
Follow IndyStar Pacers beat writer James Boyd on Twitter: @RomeovilleKid. Reach him by email: [email protected]
This article originally appeared on Indianapolis Star: Pacers sign Jalen Smith, anoint him as starting force forward