To break down the first trade of NBA Draft week, and one that tips off what could be the league’s two most fascinating front-office offseasons, it’s best to start with a simple question. Or rather two questions:
The first is: If you could trade CJ McCollum for Jerami Grant and Josh Hart, would you do it?
The second is: What if I told you Grant and Hart combined still make less than McCollum does?
At the very least, Portland’s trade for Grant somewhat solidifies the foundation of the wobbly theory around Jenga tower that is the Trail Blazers’ decision to rebuild Damian Lillard, rather than just trading Lillard and starting over.
To review, it’s not exactly a trade of McCollum for Hart and Grant, but it’s close enough. In February, Portland sent McCollum to New Orleans for Hart, first and two seconds, with the first and set to be the 11th pick on Thursday … until Paul George got COVID-19 and it turned into the Bucks’ first 2025.
Stuffing Larry Nance into the deal, along with various other salary flotsam from both sides, generated a $20.5 million trade exception juuuust large enough to take Grant into a later trade. This did not seem to happen by accident.
Fast forward to Wednesday, when the Blazers took that same first from Milwaukee and two seconds, as well as a pick swap of the 36th and 46th picks in the 2022 draft, and traded it to Detroit to take Grant into their exception. (The exact seconds going to the Pistons are Detroit’s own second in 2025, and the better of Portland’s or New Orleans’ second in 2026.)
So if you’re keeping score, Portland now has started what is expected to be a very active offseason by preserving its own lottery pick and still acquiring a big wing. One can argue the idea of Grant has never quite matched the 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; one can equally forcefully argue the Blazers weren’t in a great position to get big wings, and this was the best one reasonably available to them. The Blazers can extend Grant’s contract in six months; otherwise, he’s a free agent next summer.
Meanwhile, Detroit fans who had sugar-plum dreams of getting Portland’s seventh pick in the 2022 draft in this deal were undoubtedly disappointed, but that never seemed like a realistic return for Grant … particularly in this case where the Pistons didn’t have to take back any salary, not even one of the various dead-money deals at the back end of Portland’s roster.
Dropping off Grant without taking anything back while getting a likely late first in 2025, a 10-pick trade-up in the 2022 second round and two pretty good future seconds is nothing to sneeze at. I doubt they could have done better shopping anywhere else. The Pistons can now decline their team options on Carsen Edwards, Luka Garza and Frank Jackson and have nearly $47 million in cap room, more than enough to drop a max offer sheet on Miles Bridges or Deandre Ayton or perhaps to tempt Dallas guard Jalen Brunson.
The Pistons can also take a victory lap on the Grant signing, which seemed like a dramatic overpay at the time but Detroit has now parlayed into future draft equity with no real cost in the intervening two years. Whatever other weirdness has gone on in Detroit the last two years (one of the picks they got back was one of the four seconds they sent to the Clippers in that wacky Luke Kennard deal), Grant’s contract was the biggest bet by the Troy Weaver regime so far, and it hit.
The obvious question in Detroit now is whether this was just a speculative play for cap room, or if it was done with advance knowledge of a particular player being ready and willing to sign into the Pistons’ cap room. Grant could have potentially been a piece in a sign-and-trade deal with Phoenix for Ayton, for instance; that possibility is gone now. Between today and July 1, the Pistons will hold the title of League’s Most Interesting Team.
As for Portland, the opportunity cost of moving on a Grant deal is that it makes it much harder to execute deals for other targets; that giant trade exception from the McCollum deal is gone now. That could prove problematic because a better, younger wing who makes less money, OG Anunoby, seems to be in their crosshairs as well.
Portland would certainly need to cough up its seventh pick in the 2022 draft to get Anunoby, but executing the deal is tricky now that the trade exception is gone. The Raptors wouldn’t definitely want much of what Portland could offer in return as a matching contract (such as fully guaranteeing Eric Bledsoe’s $19 million for next year); the Blazers would also likely be a taxpayer if they did a deal that way. Obviously, Hart could also go into this deal, but I presume the Blazers would like to keep him and line up Hart-Grant-Anunoby at the two-three-four spots.
The alternative is the pu pu platter, aggregating six different contracts to salary-match Anunoby’s and then adding the seventh pick as the cherry on top. This works more easily if Nassir Little is in the deal, but Little is FOD (Friends of Dame) from what I hear and thus more likely to be left out of such an arrangement.
If so, the sloptacular combo of Greg Brown, Justise Winslow, Keon Johnson, Didi Louzada, Trendon Watford and a signed-and-traded Elijah Hughes would make juuuust enough money to be legal tender in an Anunoby swap, provided the trade happened after the July moratorium. If the Raptors added two small contracts of their own (say, Svi Mykhailiuk and Armoni Brooks), they would create a $17 million trade exception.
(Side note: If OG Anunoby is actually available, the Grizzlies are definitely calling Masai Ujuri every 30 minutes and then pinging Bobby Webster on the 15s and 45s. They’ve been hunting for a big wing to pair with their current core for two years. now and can take Anunoby’s contract into cap space if needed. The only question is what other players and draft assets Memphis would need to send back and whether the price is too high. And, also, of course, if Anunoby is actually available.)
The Blazers have other factors to consider. Adding Anunoby would leave them only $40 million or so from the tax line, even if Bledsoe is waived. They would still need to re-sign Jusuf Nurkic and Anfernee Simons and fill somewhere between three and seven other empty roster spots depending on how the trade is set up.
Sooo… if it wasn’t obvious, the Blazers-Pistons deal could be the domino that gets a lot of other trade action moving. Detroit can take dead contracts into its cap space and still have enough to do a max contact deal; Portland’s pick at No. 7 is very much in play, and the Blazers have other scenarios to work on too. The book is only partly written on this trade, depending on the subsequent moves made by each team, but I suspect we’re going to be referring back to this deal a lot over the coming months and years.
Edwards: Why the Pistons made Jerami Grant deal now
Harper: Grading the Pistons-Blazers trade
(Photo of Jerami Grant: Dan Hamilton / USA Today)