Swapping Pistons blazers for Jerami Grant could be the first domino to fall in a string of many


Swapping Pistons blazers for Jerami Grant could be the first domino to fall in a string of many

To break down the first trade of the NBA draft week and provide a clue to the league’s two most intriguing front-office offseasons, it’s best to start with a simple question. Or better two questions:

The first is If you could trade CJ McCollum for Jerami Grant and Josh Hart, would you?

The second is: What if I told you that Grant and Hart still make less than McCollum together?

At the very least, Portland’s trade with Grant cements somewhat the foundation of the shaky theoretical Jenga tower that is the Trail Blazers’ decision to rebuild around Damian Lillard, rather than just trade Lillard and start over.

To double check, it’s not exactly a swap from McCollum for Hart and Grant, but it’s close enough. In February, Portland sent McCollum to New Orleans for Hart, a first and two seconds, with the first seemingly supposed to be Thursday’s 11th pick … until Paul George got COVID-19 and it became the Bucks’ first in 2025.

Putting Larry Nance in the deal, along with various other salary items from both sides, resulted in a $20.5 million trade exception whoops large enough to include Grant in a later trade. This didn’t seem to be a coincidence.

Fast forward to Wednesday when the Blazers took the same Milwaukee first and two seconds plus a pick swap of the 36th and 46th picks in the 2022 draft and traded it to Detroit to put Grant in their exception. (The exact seconds going to the Pistons are Detroit’s own second in 2025 and the better of Portland or New Orleans’ seconds in 2026.)

So if you’re accumulating points, Portland has now entered what is expected to be a very active off-season, maintaining its own lottery selection and still acquiring a big wing. It can be argued that Grant’s idea has never quite matched reality save for the first half of his 2020-21 season and that he’s not worth his $20.7 million salary for next year; It can be just as strongly argued that the Blazers weren’t in a great position to get big wings, and this was the best they reasonably had at their disposal. The Blazers can renew Grant’s contract in six months; otherwise he’s a free agent next summer.

Meanwhile, Detroit fans who had sugar candy dreams of getting Portland’s seventh pick in the 2022 draft in this deal are no doubt disappointed, but that never seemed like a realistic return for Grant … especially in this case, where the Pistons didn’t have to pay back any salary, not even any of the various dead money deals at the back end of Portland’s roster.

Dropping Grant without taking anything back while getting a likely late first-place finisher in 2025, a 10-pick trade-up in round two in 2022, and two pretty good seconds down is nothing to scoff at. I doubt they could have shopped better elsewhere. The Pistons can now turn down their team options for Carsen Edwards, Luka Garza and Frank Jackson and have nearly $47 million in play, more than enough to make a maximum offer to Miles Bridges or Deandre Ayton, or perhaps tempt Dallas guard Jalen Brunson respectively.

The Pistons can also turn a winning lap on Grant’s signing, which at the time seemed like a dramatic overpayment, but Detroit has now been investing in future draft equity at no real cost for the past two years. Whatever else happened in Detroit over the past two years (one of the picks they got back was one of the four seconds they sent to the Clippers in that crazy Luke Kennard deal), Grant’s contract was the biggest bet of the Troy Weaver regime so far, and it struck.

The obvious question in Detroit now is whether this was just a speculative game of cap room or whether it was done with foreknowledge that a particular player was ready and willing to enter the Pistons’ cap room. For example, Grant could potentially have been part of a sign-and-trade deal with Phoenix for Ayton; that option is now gone. From today through July 1, the Pistons will hold the title of Most Interesting Team in the League.

As for Portland, the opportunity cost of a grant deal is that it makes it much more difficult to execute deals for other destinations. That huge trade exemption from the McCollum deal is now gone. That could prove problematic as a better, younger wing that makes less money, OG Anunoby, also seems to be in the crosshairs.

Portland would certainly have to cough up its seventh pick in the 2022 draft to get Anunoby, but executing the deal is difficult now that the trade exception is gone. The Raptors wouldn’t necessarily want much of what Portland could offer in return as a suitable contract (like Eric Bledsoe’s $19 million full guarantee next year); The Blazers would likely be taxpayers, too, if they struck a deal this way. Of course, Hart could get in on that deal too, but I suppose the Blazers would like to keep him and field Hart-grant-Anunoby on the two-three-four points.

The alternative is the Pu Pu Platte, which combines six different contracts to match Anunoby’s salary and then adds the seventh pick as icing on the cake. This works more easily when Nassir Little is in business, but Little is FOD (Friends of Dame) from what I hear and is therefore more likely to be left out of such an arrangement.

If so, the sloppy combo of Greg Brown, Justise Winslow, Keon Johnson, Didi Louzada, Trendon Watford and a signed and traded Elijah Hughes would suffice whoops enough money to be legal tender in an anunoby swap, provided trading took place after the July moratorium. If the Raptors added two small deals of their own (say, Svi Mykhailiuk and Armoni Brooks), they would create a $17 million trade exemption.

(Side note: if OG Anunoby is actually available, the Grizzlies will definitely call Masai Ujuri every 30 minutes and then ping Bobby Webster on the 15s and 45s. They’ve been looking for a big wing to mate with their current core for two years now and can bring Anunoby’s contract to cap space if needed. The only question is what other players and draft assets would have to send back to Memphis and if the price is too high. And of course if Anunoby is actually available.)

The blazers have other factors to consider. Adding Anunoby would only leave them about $40 million out of the tax line, even without Bledsoe. They would still need to re-sign Jusuf Nurkic and Anfernee Simons and fill between three and seven other vacant roster spots depending on how the trade is set up.

Sooo…if it weren’t obvious, the Blazers-Pistons deal could be the domino that kick-starts many other trades. Detroit can add dead contracts to its cap range and still have enough to close a maximum contact deal; Portland’s pick at No. 7 is very much in play, and the Blazers have other scenarios to work on as well. The book is only partially written about this trade, depending on each team’s subsequent steps, but I suspect we will refer to this deal frequently in the months and years to come.

related reading

Edwards: Why the Pistons made the deal with Jerami Grant now
Harper: Classification of the Pistons-Blazers Trade

(Photo by Jerami Grant: Dan Hamilton / USA Today)

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