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Jerami Grant Shows Difficulty of Gauging “Value” in NBA Trades

A reader calls Grant one of the big steals of all time. We examine the concept.

Portland Trail Blazers Introduce Newly Signed Players Photo by Sam Forencich/NBAE via Getty Images

The Portland Trail Blazers trading for Detroit Pistons forward Jerami Grant seems like ancient history in the annals of NBA Summer, 2022. The deal happened prior to the draft. The Blazers have made a half-dozen transactions since, the league hundreds. One Blazer’s Edge Reader still wants to praise, and by proxy evaluate, that move, though. That’s the subject of today’s Blazer’s Edge Mailbag.

Dave,

First time caller! After looking over our summer moves I don’t think we’re talking about Jeremy Grant enough. He’s a high quality player and even a forward that we desperately needed. We got him for a future low first round pick and a trade exception. That’s it? I think this not only the best move of our year, the value makes it one of the best moves in the NBA this year. Maybe it could be one of the best steals in franchise history? What do you think? I can’t believe we paid so little for so much. I’ll take your answer off air.

—Dale

Thanks for writing! I don’t disagree. The Blazers got Grant at a really reasonable price. It was everything that could be asked for, in their situation. They didn’t get the lottery pick they hoped for out of trading CJ McCollum to the New Orleans Pelicans. That missing asset was supposed to open up trade doors for them. Instead they parlayed the consolation prize into one of their preferred targets.

Grant’s 19.2 points a game may not be achievable in Portland, but his defensive ability should come in handy. As you point out, they needed a power forward desperately. They not only have one now, but one that some pundits have put on the verge of stardom at 27 years old. I don’t see how they could have done better.

Long-term value will depend on Grant’s play and Portland’s willingness to sign him to an extension. As we’ve pointed out before, this deal could get really expensive, really quick. There’s also a non-zero chance that the Blazers parted with that draft pick to rent Grant for a season. But if things stay down the middle, they will probably be happy enough with the cost of this move and Grant will be in Portland for a while.

I might even go with you as far as calling the deal one of the more budget-friendly trades of the summer. You don’t see a lot of Olympians changing teams, let alone at that price.

I think we need to slow down the train and take a smoke break when we try to go further than that, though. My quibble isn’t over the acquisition being a “steal”. It’s about the concept of “steal” being so prized to begin with.

We can easily pluck memorable trades out of Trail Blazers history. The Blazers have, at one time or another, done all the following:

  • Traded Wayne Cooper, Fat Lever, Calvin Natt, and two draft picks for Kiki Vandeweghe
  • Traded Walter Berry for Kevin Duckworth
  • Traded Kenny Anderson, Gary Trent (Sr.), Alvin Williams, and three draft picks for Damon Stoudamire
  • Traded Stacey Augmon, Kelvin Cato, Ed Gray, Carlos Rogers, Brian Shaw, and Walt Williams for Scottie Pippen
  • Traded Viktor Khryapa and Tyrus Thomas for LaMarcus Aldridge (Hello, BlogaBull!)
  • Traded Gerald Wallace for the draft pick that would become Damian Lillard

Obviously we biased this list towards Big Deals. The point isn’t to overwhelm Grant’s name with glittery stars from Portland’s past. Rather it’s to point out the vast range of exchanges involved in acquiring the players you remember so well. Some cost an eye-popping fortune. Others cost very little compared to their eventual impact. Value spent doesn’t correlate exactly to production or outcome.

There’s some wisdom to thinking of a trade solely as an economic transaction. Everybody wants to buy as low as possible. The fewer assets you spend acquiring a player, the more you have to use in other ways.

It’s worth pointing out that those extra, marginal assets a team saves in a “steal” are seldom used optimally. We can probably point to some instances in league history where we’d say, ‘Player X could have been included in a deal, but he wasn’t, and that made all the difference in this championship run.” We’re going to have to hunt a little bit for examples. They won’t be frequent, let alone ubiquitous.

The variety of ways teams measure “value” also complicate the process. One franchise’s cap savings on the way to a rebuild is another franchise’s final piece. Both “succeed” in their own way, even though on paper, one of the parties received far more on-court talent.

Sometimes future superstars do get traded for a song. Often the purported “steal” looks better on paper than on the floor, though.

And that’s the point. Even though we instinctively think of trades solely as asset swaps, everything we’re judging on has passed already. There’s no way to tell future value, fit, or production with certainty. The economic interpretation of deals—judging by current “market price”—is allowable, but not sufficient.

I find it just as accurate to think of trades like executing a draft pick, with a different buy-in and more information/history than you usually have on an incoming NBA rookie.

This isn’t like trading dollars for Euros or a hundred bucks for a bike. It’s more like buying a ticket for an amusement park ride. You gauge beforehand whether you think the overall experience is going to be worth the price. If it doesn’t seem to be, you decline. But once you’ve purchased the ticket and passed though that turnstile, what you paid doesn’t matter anymore. The only question left is, “Is this fun?” If it is...wheee! You did it! If it isn’t, boy, that sucked. Either way, what you paid to get on the ride is only significant as a personal mental exercise. You can’t use that value to gauge the actual ride experience. (Unless, of course, you want to ride the ride again. That hardly applies here, as you can’t make the same NBA trade twice.) Price doesn’t alter the mechanics of the ride one bit.

The Blazers got on the Jerami-Grant-Go-’Round inexpensively. That’s awesome! Cheap tickets are a rarity in this park! But now that the purchase is done and they’re in line, price is no longer a factor in determining how well this works, any more than Damian Lillard’s current utility is determined by being the 6th pick in the 2012 NBA Draft instead of the 1st or 24th. If Grant fits and plays amazingly well, the Blazers did great. If he doesn’t, the price of the deal isn’t going to redeem it.

In short, “stealing” a player in trade is as much about bragging rights and fan discussion as actual benefit. You want your team to get the right players at the price necessary to do so. Price is one factor in the definition of “right”, but is hardly determinant either way.

What about all of you? Do you think “steals” matter as much as people think? And do you regard acquiring Grant for a future pick and trade exception among Portland’s greatest value exchanges? Let us know in the comment section below!

Thanks for the question! You all can send yours to blazersub@gmail.com and we’ll answer as many as we can!