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Jerami Grant Trade Shows Trail Blazers’ Strategy

Portland makes a smart move to start their summer.

Detroit Pistons v Miami Heat Photo by Issac Baldizon/NBAE via Getty Images

The Portland Trail Blazers have traded for Detroit Pistons forward Jerami Grant, likely the first of several summer moves to improve their roster. According to Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN, a conditional 2025 first-round pick originally belonging to the Milwaukee Bucks is the main asset headed to Detroit. That pick was acquired in a mid-season deal with the New Orleans Pelicans last year. The move sent CJ McCollum and Larry Nance, Jr. to New Orleans.

Closing the circle, Portland ultimately exchanged McCollum and Nance, Jr. for Grant and swingman Josh Hart, also a product of that trade.

Here’s the instant reaction to the move and the likely fallout.

The Defense Just Got Better

Portland’s annual commitment to defending the floor better has become the equivalent of your teenager’s promises to clean their room. It sounds right, but never quite gets done.

Grant is not at an All-NBA defensive level, but he’s closer than anyone the Blazers have acquired in recent memory. His motor and willingness are (almost) unquestioned. He’s not going to lock down elite opponents, but Portland’s frontcourt now has the potential to be solid across the board with Grant (very good defender), Jusuf Nurkic (good defender), and Nassir Little (growing defender) or Josh Hart (decent defender but undersized at small forward).

That mix-and-match frontcourt quartet is not going to make a huge impact if Damian Lillard and Anfernee Simons become sieves the way the Lillard-McCollum duo often did. As we often say, 3/5 of a dam won’t stop any of the river. But if the guards gel on the defensive end—or if Hart ends up playing at shooting guard with Little (or another defensive forward yet to come) at the three-spot—Portland will field a mobile, active defensive unit around Lillard for the first time since 2014.

Offense May Not Transfer Completely

Eyes will pop at Grant’s 19.2 scoring average last season, even more so at his 22.3 ppg the season before. A wee bit of skepticism is merited. Granted, that 19.2 came on only 14.9 shots per game. That’s an achievable number in Portland. But Grant is no better than the third option in Portland’s starting lineup, behind the guards. His usage percentage in that 22-point season was 28.5%. He’s unlikely to see that in this lineup. His actual shooting percentages are ok (42.6% from the floor, 35.8% from distance) but not remarkable.

If Grant can return to the 39% three-point mark—registered once in Oklahoma City and once in Denver—then his offense becomes instantly translatable. If he’s mediocre from the arc, negotiating shots and floor space may become a work in progress, as he may require more volume than the Blazers can give him.

Break Out the Wallet

There’s a reason Grant was available for a trade exception and a likely-modest future first-rounder. He wanted out of Detroit, but the request had leverage because his contract is expiring and he’s going to want a big raise. By trading for Grant, it’s implied that Portland will be willing to give it to him. That’s not iron-clad, of course, but it’s likely.

Since the Blazers will also presumably re-up Simons and Nurkic this off-season, the price tag on the starting lineup will be significant.

This will be an interesting test for Grant. For all of his ability and potential, he hasn’t stuck with any team more than two-and-a-half seasons. Portland will be his fifth team in nine years of service, only the second (after Detroit) to pay him big. How much are the Blazers willing to commit to him and how firmly—and effectively—can he commit in return? Those are open questions.

Health Permitting

It’s worth noting that Grant played in only 47 games last year, 54 (out of 72) the season before. He’s 28 years old, right in his prime, so there’s no lingering concern about bouncing back. But Portland could use a solid 70-72 games from him, minimum. He’s only reached 80 three times in his career. A decent bench still matters, even with this improvement to the starting lineup.

A Relative Steal

Assuming the Blazers are willing to pay Grant and he lasts more than a year, they just acquired a defensive-minded, scoring-ready, veteran forward without burning their best trade asset in the off-season. If one presumes the 7th pick, Simons, Hart, and Nurkic are all available for the right price, it’s actually their 5th-best asset at worst. That’s some nice dealing.

This could go wrong if Grant is chronically injured or if he only plays for a year in Portland. If neither of those things happen, you take your chances, spin the wheel, and call it fair. The cost is low.

Again, Grant’s acquisition at that price—which also included a pick swap that drops Portland from 36 to 46 in the second round of this year’s draft—makes the earlier McCollum trade look far more reasonable than it did on the surface.

What’s Next?

Even at a low-low price, Grant is not enough, by himself, to turn Portland’s fortunes around. He’s a good first step, one that will likely appeal to fans and Damian Lillard alike. (Remember Grant played with Lillard on the Gold Medal Tokyo Olympics team.) Those are important considerations for a team in need of a morale boost, but not the checkmate move in this off-season game.

Fortunately, the Blazers still have assets to play with, notably that lottery pick. If they feel a rapid-growth, big-impact rookie is available with the 7th pick on Thursday, they now have a little more security using it for themselves. With Grant starting at forward, the young player could be forecast coming off the bench instead of having to help the starting lineup, a far easier job description to fill, with a correspondingly longer time to develop.

This also makes it slightly more palatable for the Blazers to consider trading up for a prime rookie, if they think they can get their hands on one. Throwing a super-talented forward or center into a talented, experienced starting lineup works.

It’s just as likely, though, that Portland will continue to test the market, seeing what the actual 7th pick can bring in trade. Watch, in particular, for any small forward names coming forward. That’s an easy assimilation. A deal for a big-time center is still a possibility. The only hot name impacted negatively by the Grant deal would be John Collins. Since both play power forward naturally, that wouldn’t be a comfortable fit, at least on the surface. It’s not an absolute bar, but it’d be curious.

For now, anything is still possible. This initial move coming easily, at modest cost, was important. It keeps the field alive for a significant second play. That’s exactly what the Blazers needed to do. Whatever you think of Grant’s ultimate utility as an individual, they pulled off a smart strategic move by acquiring him.