The Portland Trail Blazers traded for Detroit Pistons forward Jerami Grant, likely the first of several summer moves to improve their roster. According to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, a conditional 2025 first-round pick who originally belonged to the Milwaukee Bucks is the top asset heading to Detroit. That pick was acquired in a midseason deal with the New Orleans Pelicans last year. The move sent CJ McCollum and Larry Nance, Jr. to New Orleans.
Coming full circle, Portland finally traded McCollum and Nance, Jr. for Grant and forward Josh Hart, also a product of that trade.
Here is the instant reaction to the move and the possible consequences.
defense just got better
Portland’s annual pledge to better defend the floor has become the equivalent of your teenage son’s promises to clean his room. It sounds good, but it’s never quite done.
Grant isn’t at an All-NBA defensive level, but he’s closer than anyone the Blazers have acquired in recent memory. The engine and layout of it are (almost) unquestionable. He’s not going to lock down elite opponents, but Portland’s front line now has the potential to be solid across the board with Grant (very good defender), Jusuf Nurkic (good defender) and Nassir Little (growing defender) o Josh Hart (decent defender) but too small at forward).
That frontcourt mix-and-match quartet won’t have much of an impact if Damian Lillard and Anfernee Simons become sieves as the Lillard-McCollum duo often did. As we say, 3/5 of a dam won’t stop any of the river. But if shooting guards fit on the defensive end, or if Hart ends up playing shooting guard with Little (or another defensive forward to come) at 3, Portland will deploy a mobile and active defensive unit around Lillard for the first time. time since 2014.
The offense cannot be fully transferred
Eyes will widen with Grant’s 19.2 scoring average last season, even more so with his 22.3 points per game last season. It deserves a bit of skepticism. Granted, that 19.2 came on just 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 shooting guards. His usage rate in that 22-point season was 28.5%. It’s unlikely he’ll see that in this lineup. His actual shooting percentages are okay (42.6% from the ground, 35.8% from distance) but not remarkable.
If Grant can get back to the 39% three-point mark, recorded 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 can become a work in progress, as he may require more volume than the Blazers can give him.
break the wallet
There’s a reason Grant was available for a trade exception and a likely modest future first-round pick. He wanted out of Detroit, but the request had leverage because his contract is about to expire and he’ll want a big raise. By swapping for Grant, it is implied that Portland will be willing to give it to him. That’s not foolproof, of course, but it’s likely.
Given that the Blazers will also presumably bring up Simons and Nurkic again this offseason, the price tag on the starting lineup will be significant.
This will be an interesting test for Grant. For all his skill and potential, he hasn’t stayed with any team for 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.
It’s worth noting that Grant played in just 47 games last year, down from 54 (of 72) the season before. He is 28 years old, he is in his best moment, so there is no worry about recovering. But Portland could use a solid 70-72 games from him, at the very least. He has only reached 80 three times in his career. A decent bench is still important, even with this improvement in the starting lineup.
A relative robbery
Assuming the Blazers are willing to pay Grant and he lasts more than a year, they just acquired a defensive-minded veteran forward ready to score without burning their best trade asset in the offseason. If you assume the seventh pick, Simons, Hart and Nurkic are available for the right price, he’s actually their fifth-best worst-case asset. That’s a good deal.
This could backfire if Grant suffers a chronic injury or only plays one year in Portland. If none of those things happen, you take your chances, spin the wheel, and deem it fair. The cost is low.
Once again, acquiring Grant at that price, which also included a pick trade that dropped Portland from 36th to 46th in the second round of this year’s draft, makes McCollum’s earlier trade seem much more reasonable than what it looked like on the surface.
Even at a very low price, Grant isn’t enough, by himself, to turn Portland’s fortunes around. It’s a good first step, one that’s likely to appeal to both fans and Damian Lillard. (Recall that Grant played Lillard on the Tokyo Olympics Gold Medal team.) Those are important considerations for a team that needs a morale boost but not the checkmate move in this offseason game.
Fortunately, the Blazers still have assets to play with, particularly that lottery pick. If they feel a fast-growing, high-impact rookie is available with the seventh pick on Thursday, they now have a little more confidence using him for themselves. With Grant starting at forward, the young player could be predicted to come off the bench rather than have to help out the starting lineup, a much easier job description to fill, with a correspondingly longer time to develop.
This also makes it a little more palatable for the Blazers to consider trading for a top-tier rookie, if they think they can get their hands on one. Throwing a super-talented forward or center into a talented and experienced starting lineup works.
However, Portland is just as likely to continue to test the market, seeing what the royal seventh pick can bring in the trade. Keep an eye out, in particular, for the names of the small forwards who come forward. That’s an easy assimilation. A deal for a big center is still a possibility. The only hot name negatively affected by the Grant deal would be John Collins. Since they’re both natural power forwards, it wouldn’t be a comfortable fit, at least on the surface. It is not an absolute bar, but it would be curious.
For now, anything is possible. This initial move that came easily, at modest cost, was important. It keeps the field alive for a meaningful second play. That’s exactly what the Blazers needed to do. Regardless of what you think of Grant’s ultimate utility as an individual, they made a smart strategic move by acquiring him.