Possible effects of Jalen Smith being a starter for the Indiana Pacers

The Indiana Pacers held a press conference for the re-signing of Jalen Smith yesterday with much pomp and circumstance as team employees clapped and cheered at every opportunity for some added flair and energy to the events.

The biggest news to come from it is that Smith, who averaged 13.4 points and 7.6 rebounds in just under 25 minutes per game with the Pacers, will be the team’s starting power forward next season which came straight from the mouth of the head coach, Rick Carlisle.

Details of the contract were reported by Scott Agness of Fieldhouse Files. Originally reported as a 2-year deal when news broke of his re-signing by multiple outlets, Agness says the deal was tweaked over the last few days and it is now a 3-year contract with a player option on the third season. The first season in the deal will start at $4.67 million, which is what the Pacers were limited to offering due to the Suns declining his team option of the same amount.

Smith, who was taken two spots before Tyrese Haliburton in the 2020 draft and acquired by the Pacers at the trade deadline in exchange for Torrey Craig, said that it wasn’t about money and that he “chose his future over instant gratification” in making this decision to come back to the Pacers. 

“I think he’s being very humble,” said Kevin Pritchard, who called Smith the team’s number one priority in free agency. “I think there were many teams after him and we were competing with teams that quite frankly could have been a lot higher than what we could offer.”

Being able to get those two seasons in the deal before the player option was a major get for Pritchard and the Pacers front office. The only reason they were able to get a 10th overall pick in his second year in the first place for a reserve wing in Craig was because the Suns knew the limitations any team would have in retaining Smith for the long haul after declining that option. If they could only get Smith to re-sign on a 1+1 contract, the Pacers would have been limited to what they could offer him again if he declined the player option because of his original rookie-scale contract that had team options for both years 3 and 4. Now, they will have no limitations to what they can offer him on his next deal before his fifth season if he declines his option at that time.

“Two years is going to go by really quick and his future will go like this from there,” Carlisle said while pointing his arm in an upward trajectory. Carlisle likened getting Smith back as adding another lottery pick to the roster.

Due to these details of the contract, information concerning Jalen Smith has been declassified and will no longer be redacted on this website any longer. Smith confirmed during the press conference that fans are allowed to cheer for him and say his name now after a question from IndyStar’s James Boyd.

Pacers Twitter and social media in general were mentioned numerous times during the press conference. Smith admitted that he saw the tweets that were joking about how terrible of a person he was and found them funny and appreciated them. Carlisle mentioned those efforts to convince Smith to come back as well and called out bloggers that wanted to see Smith “at the end of the bench” (guilty as charged here though it’s a slight exaggeration) for those contract reasons as well.

“You never know what’s going to happen,” said Smith, who shot 63% on 2-point attempts and 37.3% on 3-point attempts last season. “I could’ve got traded and put to the back of the bench like I was in Phoenix, but coach Carlisle gave me that opportunity to just go on the court and play my game. I feel as though that was a deal breaker for me when I wanted to make my decision.”

Carlisle’s decision to give the young big man minutes even though it may have been difficult to keep him likely led to being the reason he chose to stay. The fact that Smith was announced as a starter in this summer press conference feels like that was a part of the negotiation process as well and it could explain a few things about the Pacers off-season so far and make an impact on future moves as well.

The biggest question is if Smith is the starting four, how does that affect whether or not the Pacers are planning on retaining Myles Turner as the starting five? Turner has been excited about having that 5 spot all to himself again but he also remains in trade rumors as has been the norm for nearly his entire career. Pairing Turner with another big in the starting lineup does raise some questions about how well these two will fit together. While Smith would likely be the 4 on both ends—unlike the former frontcourt partner in Domas Sabonis—teams could still choose to guard Smith with centers instead of Turner, especially if Smith’s hot shooting with the Pacers cools down like it did after he started off making 11 of his first 14 shots from deep for his new team. Smith likely would have similar trouble guarding many 4s out on the perimeter as Sabonis did as well but did mention that was one of his focus areas for growth.

The rumors have been non-stop at least partially thanks to the Pacers abundance of cap space and the lack of it elsewhere in the league that they are interested in trying to pry Deandre Ayton away from the Phoenix Suns. Ayton is a RFA but Phoenix has been reluctant to pay him the max. Whether Herb Simon would allow the Pacers to go the offer sheet route is questionable, remember he called the Bucks owner when Malcolm Brogdon was a RFA.

Instead of the Pacers offering him the contract the Bucks were likely not going to match anyway, Simon sent a first-round pick the Bucks way for their trouble. The Pacers could offer a sign-and-trade situation with Turner as the centerpiece or offer draft pick compensation now that they have multiple assets for next year’s draft. With the Suns trying to figure out a trade to get Kevin Durant, reports have suggested that Nets aren’t interested in Ayton and that Turner doesn’t help move the needle either.

I’m also not aware of what the dynamics were between Ayton and Smith but they obviously didn’t play together much while in Phoenix as Smith mainly sat on the bench. Whether the Pacers would be interested in reuniting them anyway is an interesting question. Ayton at 23 fits the team’s timeline perfectly and would be the first player drafted first overall to ever play for the franchise. While Turner at 26 is young enough to fit the rebuilding roster, he only has one year remaining on his contract before he’s an unrestricted free agent next year. It’s unknown if the Pacers have discussed extension with Turner at this point or if he’s interested in extending now.

In addition to Turner, it also makes you wonder what the plan is for Isaiah Jackson who obviously needs to get plenty of minutes at either big spot to continue to grow and develop his exciting set of skills on both ends.

Oshae Brissett’s team option was picked up earlier in the off-season but the Pacers could have chosen to decline the option and make him a restricted free agent instead. This would have allowed to Pacers to negotiate a longer-term contract this summer without much threat in losing him with his restricted status likely scaring off other suitors. The Rockets did this exact thing with Jae’Sean Tate for example. 

Brissett has started 41 of his 88 games in a Pacers uniform with those coming mostly at the power forward position. It’s possible that the Pacers weren’t interested in trying to re-sign Brissett to a long-term deal now knowing that they would like to start someone else at his best position or Brissett might not have shown interest in signing something long term without more clarity on his role than the Pacers could give at the moment they needed to make the decision on his option.

Giving Smith that starting spot could also partially explain why T.J. Warren decided to join the Brooklyn Nets on a minimum 1-year deal. While it’s possible that the Pacers wanted to completely move on after not having a healthy Warren available for two straight seasons, Warren could have been turned off by a lack of a starting position available for him as the Pacers also have a logjam at the 2 and 3 that would limit his opportunities at small forward as well. So even if the Pacers considered offering Warren more money, he may have felt it was the better situation for him in Brooklyn. It’s also possible that the tweaks to Smith’s deal as reported by Agness happened because Warren decided to leave and then the Pacers felt like they could offer him a starting role in exchange for that extra season.

If it impacts any of the remaining moves the Pacers make, we should find out soon. The Brogdon to the Celtics trade should take place on Friday, July 9, when it’s first eligible to happen. The Pacers then have a little more cap space that they could use in a run for Ayton or taking in a contract from another team in exchange for assets.

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