The Indiana Pacers were bad this past season, both unintentionally (at the start of the year) and intentionally (after trading Domantas Sabonis and pulling a mini-tank.)
One of their less-heralded (at the time) deadline moves was dealing forward Torrey Craig to the Phoenix Suns in exchange for a second round draft pick and maligned big Jalen Smith. The Suns had already declined Smith’s rookie option for next season, despite drafting him 10th overall in 2020. A quirk in NBA salary rules, though, meant that the Suns would have been able to offer him less money than other teams in his upcoming free agency.
Once he was traded to Indiana, that meant the Pacers were also bound to that rule, an odd loophole that the league should consider addressing; ostensibly it’s meant to prevent teams from reaching handshake deals with players to sign bigger or longer deals before a rookie scale contract would usually end, among other possible shenanigans.
In this case, given the Suns had essentially given up on Smith, it tied the Pacers’ hands should he break out with a change of scenery. He did that, too, averaging 13.4 points and 7.6 rebounds per game in his 22 games after the trade. (An easy fix would be to waive that requirement if a player is traded after his initial team declined his option.)
Indiana fans, desperate for young talent as the team entered a rebuilding phase, quickly realized their conundrum; a 22-year-old player with Smith’s pedigree on the open market popping up with that run of play would be very difficult to retain when almost every other team could offer him more money. That led to one of the more charming running jokes on NBA Twitter, with Pacers fans refusing to acknowledge his success. Often referring to Smith (with tweets firmly in cheek) as “[redacted]”, Indiana fans attempted to downplay his success to ward off other teams.
[redacted] in the first half has 15 points on 7 of 8 shooting, 9 rebounds. Pacers are +12 in his minutes.
— iPacers.com (@iPacersblog) March 19, 2022
Most fans didn’t expect Smith to return, but thanks mostly to a league-wide absence of cap space and the Pacers being willing to promise Smith a starting role (and, surely, the fact that they helped unlock his potential down the stretch after his original team was willing to let him go for nothing), Smith agreed this week to a deal that will keep him in Indy for the next few years.
Jalen Smith signed a three-year deal with the Pacers that includes a player option and trade kicker, a league source told @FieldhouseFiles.
— Scott Agness (@ScottAgness) July 7, 2022
NBA Twitter is often a fun place, but rarely is a bit so wholesome in both its intention and its execution. Clearly fans refusing to use his name as a way to show how much they wanted to keep him had zero impact on his market value, but it’s still possible that Smith might have been annoyed by the entire thing.
In a fun full circle moment, Smith admitted at his contract signing presser that he had indeed seen the tweets, and was on board.
Jalen Smith saw your tweets and thinks they were funny.
What a day for Pacers Twitter. pic.twitter.com/QFqI68e0Tj
— iPacers.com (@iPacersblog) July 6, 2022
He acknowledged the fans again in an official video the team put out:
.@thejalen_smith ? #PacersTwitter pic.twitter.com/MqqK0FmwwU
— Indiana Pacers (@Pacers) July 7, 2022
There’s obviously a chance Smith never fulfills the promise of that season-ending stint, but even in that scenario it won’t change that this is a great value signing for the Pacers and it gives him an excellent chance to further develop with actual time on the court.
Twitter is often a cesspool in just about every way imaginable, but sometimes there’s a fun bit of connection in service of something positive. This is one of those times.