Almost every executed NBA contract has its fans and critics. Did they dole out too much over too many years? Is the player not being compensated appropriately to accurately reflect his ability and impact to the team? Are there better players they could have signed for the same price?
But sometimes the decision is as clear as the sun is bright. In this case, the Portland Trail Blazers need to give 28-year-old Jerami Grant an extension as soon as they’re able.
The franchise’s headline offseason acquisition was yielded from the Detroit Pistons for a future Milwaukee Bucks first and a couple of second rounders, made possible by the $20 million trade exception generated in the CJ McCollum deal with the New Orleans Pelicans.
The deal was reportedly prompted at the urging of Damian Lillard, who bonded with the power forward during Team USA’s 2021 Olympic campaign.
While Portland landed Grant for a relative steal, they now have to contend with his pending unrestricted free agency. And the way he’s playing, he’s not coming cheap. I don’t think Grant hits that $30 million-a-year mark but he gets awfully, awfully close, especially if he can add NBA All Star to his bio over the next couple of months.
Now, the extension can’t be signed until January. Perhaps, Grant waits to sign any deal until the All Star teams are announced later that same month in the hope his price ups a little more. But the difference is probably negligible given the amount of money he’s already in line to secure.
Why he deserves it
Many were concerned that Grant’s impressive statistics on a lowly Detroit Pistons team wouldn’t translate to a roster already owning premier players, namely Lillard. Before his time in Michigan, Grant had spent a season with the Denver Nuggets — after his former team, the Oklahoma City Thunder, had been dispatched and dismantled by the Blazers during the first round of the 2019 Playoffs. Just thought I’d remind everyone.
In Denver, Grant played a little further back in the pecking order, backing up Paul Millsap, and playing fewer minutes than Nikola Jokic, Will Barton and Jamal Murray. He chose to leave the Nuggets for the Pistons, for the promise of a bigger role, despite both teams offering similar money.
As many have already observed, Grant’s role with the Blazers has been the ultimate sweet spot. With less responsibility — although probably not much less with Lillard out — than in Detroit and more than his time in Denver, Grant has thrived.
Sure, no one ever doubted his defensive ability. Standing 6’8 with an almost 7’3 wingspan, the former Syracuse star has the length, strength and agility to guard almost anyone that comes before him on a basketball court. I probably wouldn’t have him guard Jokic, Joel Embiid or Deandre Ayton for extended periods but that’s unlikely to happen anyway.
The questions on Grant always surrounded the offensive side of the ball and a below-average rebound rate for his size and position, putting up around four a game. While the rebounding is still a “wait and see”, the offense is absolutely not an issue.
I’m not sure anyone can argue that he’s offensive repertoire isn’t comprehensive, nor can they now argue he’s a good stats/bad team type of proposition. In just 21 games this season, Grant is putting up crazily efficient numbers on 23.9 percent usage, which remains consistent with his Pistons days.
Grant is scoring at all three levels, cultivating a nice fadeaway that would even make old Dirk Nowitzki grin. There’s a 60 percent, 40 percent split between twos and threes attempted, with Grant hitting a particularly pleasing 48 percent from the latter.
The midrange still lives, with Grant putting up almost 40 percent from more than 10 feet out and he’s registering 65 percent within three feet of the rim, the pinnacle of which showed up against the New Orleans Pelicans early last month.
Elite versatile two-way wing/forward
The Blazers have three players 6’6 or taller who can comfortably and reliably put the ball on the floor. Justise Winslow, Trendon Watford and Grant. Unfortunately, the first two have offensive deficiencies that leave them vulnerable to defenders — namely shooting. But Grant doesn’t really carry a flaw with many calling him the last impactful power forward the team has had since LaMarcus Aldridge took his talents to south Texas.
I’m sure I’ve brought this up before but Al-Farouq Aminu, Moe Harkless, Carmelo Anthony, Robert Covington, Anthony Tolliver and Zach Collins all had NBA skills but those skills were one or two-dimensional and didn’t really mesh enough around Lillard. Put simply, they weren’t good enough.
Conversely, Grant offers pretty much the full gamut of NBA skills, many of which are done at an elite level. You can insert him into almost any lineup. Yes, he’s played more than 80 percent of his career at the four, but the prospective All Star can be really effective manning the middle in small-ball lineups and, at a pinch, is agile and quick enough to play at small forward when needed.
The money. Now, as mentioned, my best guess is that Grant gets something in the realm of four years at around $27, $28 or $29 million per annum. The Blazers are already on the books for more than $115 million for 10 players in 2023-24, without including Grant, Winslow and Josh Hart who likely opts out of his 2023-24 Player Option.
As far as other teams vying for Grant’s services, most of next year’s cap space teams are predominantly going to be the tanking franchises — San Antonio Spurs, Houston Rockets, Detroit Pistons, Orlando Magic, Indiana Pacers, Charlotte Hornets and Oklahoma City Thunder. Who knows where the Utah Jazz are by then? There’s also the Memphis Grizzlies and Los Angeles Lakers, but not sure whether they’ll have enough to offer Grant what he’s likely to get.
Back to Portland, I still believe Hart gets moved before or at the February 9 trade deadline for something of value at a position of need and Winslow likely gets a new contract in Portland, hopefully under the $10 million mark. That means, between Grant and Winslow you’re adding around $37 million, not to mention whichever player is yielded in a Hart deal.
As a result, while the team may duck the tax this season, it almost certainly returns there in 2023-24. I’m not sure what Jody Allen, or whoever owns the team at the stage, wants to do but whoever it is they’re going to have to dig a little deeper into his or her pockets.
Strangely, one of the more contentious topics for the recently revamped Blazers. Of those 10 players locked in for next season, only Damian Lillard and Gary Payton II will be over the age of 30 come the start of the 2023-24 season, with Jusuf Nurkic 29.
The next oldest contracted players are Anfernee Simons, who turns 24 in June, and Nassir Little who is 23 in February, meaning the rest of the rostered players are on rookie-scale contracts.
Honestly, though, this probably isn’t as big a deal as people are making it out to be. Damian Lillard is going to be in Portland for the foreseeable future, which means the Blazers are still going need to build competitive teams around him.
If Lillard changes his mind and seeks a trade elsewhere then Grant’s position on the roster becomes debatable. But even then, if he’s still performing close to where he currently is, even the contract being proposed will be moveable.
Pull of Portland
I’m not sure how much the fact that he was born in Portland — son of former Blazer Harvey — means to him. He’s previously stated he doesn’t have any real memories of the city. His relationship with Lillard, on the other hand, is probably the biggest advantage the franchise has in enticing Grant to stay. Nice work, Dame.
If the Blazers can’t get an extension done mid season, I’d feel a bit sick letting Grant enter unrestricted free agency. While there aren’t a lot of contending teams with cash next season, allowing him to enter the market could be foolish.
We’ve waited seven years to pair Lillard with a teammate that’s not an undersized offense-first guard. We’ve waited seven years for a forward who has been able to compete on both ends of the floor. And we’ve waited seven years for someone taller than 6’4 who’s even been in the discussion to make an All Star team. If ownership is prepared to go into the tax next season, and it should, the Blazers need to extend Grant for anything less than $30 million a year as soon as they can.