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Is Jerami Grant a Journeyman or Star?

And do the Blazers really need to know before making a deal for him?

NBA: Boston Celtics at Detroit Pistons Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

The Portland Trail Blazers are heading to the 2022 NBA Draft Lottery, and after that into free agency, with far more assets at their disposal than they’ve had over the last eight years. Despite all the new tools to acquire talent, one name keeps popping up: Detroit Pistons forward Jerami Grant. The Blazers have been linked with Grant since the 2022 Trade Deadline, and rumors of a deal between Portland and Detroit are creating buzz leaguewide.

But not all views about a Blazers-Grant marriage are happy. Some readers are skeptical of the impending union. One of them took the time to write to the Blazer’s Edge Mailbag:

Dave,

Let me push back on this [Jerami] Grant thing for a minute. Do you really think he’s the answer? He’s a glorified journeyman who is going to cost a ton of money. It baffles me that anybody thinks he’s the missing piece or anything but another version of what we’ve been trying for years.

Cy

Hoo boy. There’s a lot in those few sentences.

The Answer

Is Jerami Grant “the answer”? That would imply that an answer exists, and that it could be embodied in a single player. The former is speculative, the latter highly unlikely.

There might be players who, just by virtue of their presence and talent, could change the course of this franchise. Kevin Durant and LeBron James are obvious examples. The Blazers can’t get those guys. Nor is Grant one.

Absent that kind of acquisition, the gap between the Blazers and the Phoenix Suns, Memphis Grizzlies, et al. is too wide to overcome with a single signing or trade. It may not be bridgeable at all, but if it is, it’ll take a multi-pronged approach.

Fortunately, the Blazers have a few tines on their fork as they take a stab at it. They have returning talent in the form of Damian Lillard, plus Jusuf Nurkic and Anfernee Simons, presumably. If they retain Josh Hart, that’s another plus.

Portland also has any draft picks they don’t trade for Grant. If the Blazers have to give up Hart to get Grant, or if they have to trade away their highest—let alone only—draft pick, their position gets much weaker and the burden on Grant heavier. But if Portland can retain their own lottery pick and move the one they might receive from the New Orleans Pelicans for Grant, the net gain gets higher and the demands to realize profit lower.

Keeping Hart and a decent lottery pick, the Blazers hit the sweet spot where Grant becomes part of a larger approach to the problem instead of THE approach. Grant, Hart, and the player selected 5th-6th overall would give Portland a wider roster base than they have right now. If the Blazers also get lottery lucky, so much the better.

This confluence of opportunities isn’t guaranteed, but it isn’t unlikely either. We’re going to know more once we see what the New Orleans Pelicans manage in the Play-In Tournament, and what the ping pong balls say on May 17th.

Journeyman

Your assessment of Grant as a “glorified journeyman” is not inaccurate, but also not completely fair. He lives in the gray area between valued role player and star, with aspects of each.

Grant has played for four teams in his eight-year career. Two and a half seasons has been his maximum stay at any one destination. His teams lost big in Philadelphia (see also: The Process), won in the high-40’s in Oklahoma City and Denver, then lost big again in Detroit. He’s been to the Conference Finals once, with Denver in 2020. He has never turned around a franchise’s fortunes himself. None of his teams won more games the season he joined them than they had the season prior.

Throughout his career, Grant has been praised for his defensive ability. That’s the most promising quality to vault him to star level. In Detroit, he’s also scored at or near 20 points per game, traditionally a sign of impending stardom. That shouldn’t be minimized. Lots of NBA players can score 20 in a game; relatively few average 20 for a season. At the same time, his production has come with the Pistons in the league basement and few other scoring options available. His shooting percentages are OK, but they’ve diminished significantly as his scoring has risen.

As I mentioned in an earlier article about him, nearly every description of Grant reads like a Rorschach Test. People tend to see what they look for. All-NBA defender? Almost there. Inconsistent and sometimes overmatched? That too. Point producer? Yup. Driving force on offense? (waggling hand back and forth) Is he a good or bad three-point shooter? Depends on the season, sometimes on the night. Motor on the floor, though? Generally running strong. And he appears to be a good teammate besides. But will he be happy if he gets fewer shots in Portland than he’s getting in Detroit? Does he want to be a role player on a possibly-great team or the focus of the team’s offense no matter what?

Those questions make clear your point that Grant is not the answer in isolation. They don’t disqualify him from being a very good player, maybe even a star, on a team in need of both. With enough infrastructure around him, Grant’s assets can come to the fore as the things he’s not get covered by teammates.

One might ask, for instance, whether the Blazers would need him to be a 20-point scorer or a team-transforming leader. They’ve got those bases covered. His defense and the ability to score compactly—like he did in almost every stop before the Pistons—will always be in style. Whether Grant is a star or high-level role player might be beside the point. The Blazers can give him the chance to be the best “him” he can be without demanding more of him.

The Path Forward

Your point about Grant being expensive is apt. He’s eligible for an extension that would pay him $28 million per year over four years. That’s not end-of-the-world money, but it’s hefty for a player who’s not considered a bona fide star.

If the Blazers trade for Grant, that extension is a foregone conclusion. There’s no way they’d make the deal and not lock him down.

By comparison, a first-round draft pick is locked in for five years, maximum. Their rookie-scale contracts make draftees much cheaper than Grant would be. Four years of their salary would equal approximately one year of his extension. But they wouldn’t be guaranteed to be with the team any longer than Grant would be.

The larger price tag comes with an asterisk, though. If the Blazers re-sign Nurkic and Simons, they’ll not save enough usable cap space to equal Grant’s current salary, nor his extended salary in the future. In other words, it’s not like passing on him will give them $28 million of free cap space in 2023 to use on other players. They’d have a marginal amount, at best. Acquiring Grant via trade would allow them to exceed the cap with his extension in a way they couldn’t duplicate by signing other people’s free agents.

This changes the equation a bit. The financial/cap question now becomes, “Down the road, do you want a $9 million cap exception or a smaller exception and Jerami Grant?” That’s far easier to answer than whether Jerami Grant is objectively worth $28 million per year.

The real issue here isn’t cost, but opportunity cost. Would Jerami Grant give the team more over the next four years than the player they would have otherwise drafted with the lottery pick they traded away to get him?

Again, this is a matter of perspective. If the team is looking to rebuild from scratch, acquiring Grant and his salary is a bad idea, especially at the cost of a first-round pick. If they are going forward with a Lillard-Simons-Nurkic and maybe Hart core, though, Grant is going to be far more serviceable than your average 10th-14th draft selection would be. [Insert caveat about sometimes striking lottery gold here.]

At the same time, your point stands about this being a souped-up, but much more expensive, version of what the Blazers have tried for years. If they keep their current core, running back that experiment is basically what the team is committing to, absent CJ McCollum, plus Grant and Hart.

This may not be the right road forward. But if they’re going to take it, Grant is neither a bad, nor an overly-costly, option...given what we know right now. If it all falls apart, it may turn out to be a mistake. But the Blazers can’t make decisions assuming things will fall apart. They have to choose a path, then do everything they can to give themselves the best chance at success along it.

Conclusion

Your assessment isn’t wrong. It may even be right on the money. More likely, it’s half-true, in the murky gray area the same way Grant is. The reality for the Blazers is, unless they’re going to jettison the current, veteran roster and start anew—which may actually be the best route—murky gray plans with a reasonable chance of success are a lot better than no plans at all.

That’s why, if the team doesn’t decide to rebuild, Jerami Grant is a good gamble even if your description of the situation holds.

Thanks for the question! You can always send yours to blazersub@gmail.com.