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Jalen Smith returns to Pacers on two-year deal

Indiana now has 11 players under contract, including three draft picks and five incoming from trade.

NBA: Indiana Pacers at Orlando Magic Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

After being acquired effectively as matching salary in a trade for a second round pick that sent Torrey Craig to Phoenix, Jalen Smith has agreed to a two-year deal to stay in Indiana, reports The Athletic’s Shams Charania.

Smith, who had his $4.6 million option declined by the Suns, played more minutes for the Pacers following the trade deadline than any other center on the roster but wasn’t guaranteed to return, as Indiana was limited to offering no more than the figure of his original option in the first year.

After a hot start from three, in which he knocked down 11 of his first 14 tries, Smith cooled down from distance over the last 15 games of the season, connecting on just 32 percent, but he demonstrated some flashes of shot versatility; popping out to three, stepping into some attempts as a trailer, and even cutting into the corner from the baseline on occasion, putting tension on opposing taggers.

Despite some hints of soft touch, he still has some work to do making decisions against closeouts and mismatches, as far as determining when and whether to face-up or back-down. Still, by comparison to Goga Bitadze, Smith offered more in the way of positional versatility, swinging between both the four and five, while also switching (at least somewhat viability, when willfully forgetting what happened against Anthony Edwards, Darius Garland, and others), whereas Bitadze struggles to adapt across coverages that don’t allow him to just sit in a spot and wind up.

That said, after acquiring Daniel Theis as part of the trade that sent Malcolm Brogdon to the Celtics, the frontcourt is more crowded now than when the season ended, especially when considering that Myles Turner wasn’t playing. As the roster currently stands, Smith joins Turner, Jackson, Theis and Bitadze at the five position, which is to say nothing of Oshae Brissett and Terry Taylor, who are both ideally fours.

Of course, when given the choice, Rick Carlisle oftentimes turned to Smith down the stretch of games over Bitadze as well as (sometimes) Jackson, which — along with Smith’s decision to remain in Indiana — suggests he is confident there will still be pathways for opportunity, whether via other subsequent trades or at the four.

Either way, the Pacers retain a young player who showed potential and seemingly fits the way Carlisle aims to play on both ends of the floor. Taken altogether, Indiana has 11 players under contract for next season, not counting the three players they drafted nor the five incoming from the trade with Boston.