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Just how rare is Phoenix declining Jalen Smith’s third-year option?

Looking at the league’s draft history, it’s rare for a team to decline a lottery pick’s third year... besides for one franchise.

NBA: Preseason-Phoenix Suns at Sacramento Kings Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports

I had to do a double-take when I first discovered this, but as far as I can tell... it’s true. Since the year 2009, only three players selected in the lottery have seen their third-year player option declined. Jalen Smith is one of those three. Can you guess the other two?

Let’s start with Kendall Marshall who the Suns selected 13th overall in the 2012 NBA Draft. Next up on this infamous list? None other than Earl Clark who the Phoenix Suns took with the 14th overall in 2009.

Considering there have only been six total lottery picks ever to join this company since 2005 and half of them (including all of the most recent ones) were picked by Phoenix, it’s quite remarkable.

There has been one constant in these decisions. I’ll leave it at that.

Year 2 Kiss of Death?

Kendall Marshall was traded in year 2 with Shannon Brown, Marcin Gortat, and Malcolm Lee to the Washington Wizards for Emeka Okafor and a 2014 1st round draft pick (Tyler Ennis was later selected). He was then waived by the Wizards before signing with the Lakers, where he also didn’t last long. He played for four years on four teams (five if you include WASH) before never returning to the association.

Earl Clark was also dealt in year 2 by the Phoenix Suns with Jason Richardson and Hedo Türkoğlu to the Orlando Magic for Vince Carter, Marcin Gortat, Mickaël Piétrus, cash, and a 2011 1st round draft pick.

Notice the trend here? If Jalen Smith isn’t in Phoenix’s long-term plans it would be hardly shocking to see him dealt at some point this season in the vaunted “year 2”.

To be somewhat fair on the 13th and 14th picks (though they were awful picks) it is still a coin toss when it comes to late lottery picks winding up as productive rotation players. That being said, the financial implications and lack of investment in them show that they owned their mistakes early on... or just wanted to save money. Either way, they stand out VERY ALONE in this trend.

Smith’s trade value

Here’s my educated guess on this situation: NBA teams are more likely to trade for Jalen Smith as an expiring contract than they would be if he had guaranteed money attached.

Our Dave King already broke down the financial indications of this move here: The Jalen Smith contract issue is all about the money.

The Suns declined Jalen Smith’s team option of $4.7 million for the 2022-23 season, making him an unrestricted free agent next summer. He is still under contract with the Suns this season at $4.4 million. While that number does not seem large, the $4.7 million would have put Smith in the top half of all NBA player contracts next year.

Given the information above, it makes sense that it would be easier to ship out Smith as an expiring contract on a “prove it” type of deal to a team that could get him in their system and see if they want to commit any further to him once the season ends.

His contract attached with Dario Saric makes sense for a mid-level move to upgrade the roster, so we’ll be on the lookout for that. In the meantime, he may get a chance to prove it here in Phoenix. We can’t entirely rule that out either, but as things stand it seems like his days are numbered with the Suns.

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