Former Suns lotto pick Jalen Smith smiling again with return to Pacers

Jul 7, 2022, 9:35 AM | Updated: Jul 10, 2022, 11:41 am
Jalen Smith #25 of the Indiana Pacers dribbles the ball while being guarded by Steven Adams #4 of t...
Jalen Smith #25 of the Indiana Pacers dribbles the ball while being guarded by Steven Adams #4 of the Memphis Grizzlies in the third quarter at Gainbridge Fieldhouse on March 15, 2022 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images)
(Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images)

Former Phoenix Suns lottery pick Jalen Smith has had a bumpy start to his NBA career.

However, since being acquired by the Indiana Pacers, Smith has overcome adversity which includes an opportunity to start for Indiana this year.

Smith formally re-signed with Indiana after a half-season stint following a trade-deadline deal away from Phoenix, and Pacers coach Rick Carlisle said one offseason conversation with Smith’s parents stood out.

“One thing they said about Jalen’s experience with Indiana is that it’s great to see him smile again,” Carlisle told reporters on Wednesday afternoon. “He’s signed on here to be the starting power forward going forward.”

Smith agreed to a two-year, $9.6 million contract extension to stay with the Pacers.

The forward appeared in 22 games for Indiana last season, averaging 13.4 points and 7.6 rebounds per game.

When asked about what was different for Smith in his 22 games with Indiana, Smith mentioned there was a relief of stress.

“It was like a burden that lifted up, not saying I had a burden in Phoenix,” Smith said.

Following a tumultuous stint with Phoenix, the Suns traded Smith to Indiana in February, which resulted in them reacquiring forward Torrey Craig.

The Suns previously declined to pick up Smith’s third-year rookie option of $4.7 million, making Smith an unrestricted free agent this summer.

Smith was just the sixth player in NBA history to have their third-year rookie-scale option declined.

The Suns drafted Smith No. 10 overall in the 2020 NBA Draft with hopes he would fit in well next to Deandre Ayton.

Smith never got the opportunity to consistently show his skillset at the NBA level with the Suns.

While playing behind a deep big man rotation in Phoenix, Smith averaged just 4.1 points and 3.1 rebounds per game for Phoenix.

Now, he’s on to his second NBA contract earlier than expected. Because of an NBA salary rule for players whose third-year option was declined on a rookie deal, Smith was limited to re-sign with Indiana for a maximum of less than $5 million annually.

That hampered their pursuit of Smith as an unrestricted free agent, but it turns out it didn’t matter to Smith.

“Any place you go and you feel like you’re loved, you’re always going to have a joyous feel to you,” Smith said. “It’s just amazing to be welcomed after being traded and after everybody giving me that confidence boost.

“It was a lot of late-night thoughts, had a lot of offers. At the end of the day, I chose my future over instant gratification.”

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