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To break down the first trade of the week in the NBA draft, and one that provides insight into what could be the league’s two most compelling front-office offseasons, it’s best to start with a simple question. Or rather two questions:
The first is this: If you could trade CJ McCollum for Jerami Grant and Josh Hart, would you?
The second is this: what if I told you that Grant and Hart combined always earn less than McCollum?
If nothing else, Portland’s trade for Grant somewhat solidifies the foundation of Jenga’s wobbly theoretical tower which is the Trail Blazers’ decision to rebuild around Damian Lillard, rather than just trade Lillard and start over.
To sum it up, it’s not exactly a McCollum trade for Hart and Grant, but it’s pretty close. In February, Portland sent McCollum to New Orleans for Hart, a first and two seconds, with the first apparently the 11th pick on Thursday…until Paul George got COVID-19 and became the first of the Bucks in 2025.
Bringing Larry Nance into the deal, along with various other wage wrecks on both sides, generated a $20.5 million trade exception. from July big enough to take Grant into a later craft. It doesn’t seem to have happened by accident.
Fast forward to Wednesday, when the Blazers took that same Milwaukee first and two seconds, plus a trade of picks from the 36th and 46th picks in the 2022 draft, and traded it to Detroit to bring Grant into the their exception. (The exact seconds awarded to the Pistons are second to Detroit in 2025, and best to either Portland or New Orleans in 2026.)
So if you’re keeping score, Portland have now started what should be a very active offseason preserving their own lottery pick and still acquiring a big wing. It’s safe to say Grant’s idea never quite matched reality except for the first half of his 2020-21 season, and he’s not worth his $20.7 million salary for next year; it’s also a strong case that the Blazers weren’t in a great position to get big wings, and it was the best reasonably available to them. Blazers can extend Grant’s contract in six months; if not, he’s a free agent next summer.
Meanwhile, Detroit fans who dreamed of getting Portland’s seventh pick in the 2022 draft in this deal are no doubt disappointed, but it never seemed like a realistic return for Grant…especially in this case the Pistons didn’t have to take back any wages, not even one of the various dead-money offers at the back of Portland’s roster.
Dropping Grant without taking anything back while likely getting a late first in 2025, a 10-pick trade in the 2022 second round and two very good future seconds is nothing to sneeze at. I doubt they could have made better purchases elsewhere. The Pistons can now decline their team options on Carsen Edwards, Luka Garza and Frank Jackson and have nearly $47 million in caps, more than enough to drop a max bid on Miles Bridges or Deandre Ayton or maybe tempt Dallas guard Jalen Brunson.
The Pistons may also take a victory lap when signing Grant, which seemed like a dramatic overpayment at the time, but Detroit has now turned into future draft capital at no real cost over the next two years. Whatever other oddity happened to Detroit in the past two years (one of the picks they got back was one of the four seconds they sent to the Clippers in that goofy deal from Luke Kennard), Grant’s contract was the biggest bet of the Troy Weaver regime. so far, and he hit.
The obvious question in Detroit now is whether this was just a speculative game for the cap room, or whether it was done knowing in advance that a particular player was ready and willing to stand. connect to the Pistons cap room. Grant could potentially have been part of a sign-and-trade deal with Phoenix for Ayton, for example; that possibility is gone now. Between now and July 1, the Pistons hold the title of most interesting team in the league.
As for Portland, the opportunity cost of moving to a grant agreement is that it is much more difficult to execute agreements for other targets; that giant trade exception from the McCollum deal is now gone. This could prove problematic as a better younger wing who earns less money, OG Anunoby, also seems to be in their sights.
Portland would surely need to cough up their 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 necessarily want much of what Portland could offer in return as a contract match (like fully guaranteeing Eric Bledsoe’s $19 million for next year); the Blazers would also likely be taxpayers if they made a deal this way. Obviously, Hart could make that deal as well, but I guess the Blazers would like to keep him and line up Hart-Grant-Anunoby in the two-three-four spot.
The alternative is the pu pu board, grouping together six different contracts to match Anunoby’s salary, then adding the seventh pick as icing on the cake. It works easier if Nassir Little is in the deal, but Little is FOD (Friends of Dame) from what I hear and therefore 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 do from July enough money to be legal tender in an Anunoby exchange, provided the exchange took place after the July moratorium. If the Raptors added their own small contracts (e.g. Svi Mykhailiuk and Armoni Brooks), they would create a $17 million trade exception.
(Note: If OG Anunoby is actually available, the Grizzlies are definitely calling Masai Ujiri every 30 minutes, then pinging Bobby Webster on 15 and 45. They’ve been looking for a big wing to partner with their current core for two years now. and can take Anunoby’s contract in cap space if necessary. The only question is which other Memphis asset players and projects should fire 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 leave them with only about $40 million from the tax line, even if Bledsoe is removed. They would still need to re-sign Jusuf Nurkic and Anfernee Simons and fill somewhere between three and seven more empty spots on the roster depending on how the trade is set up.
Sooo… if it weren’t obvious, the Blazers-Pistons deal could be the domino that will shake a lot of other trade stocks. Detroit can take dead contracts in its cap space and still have enough left to strike a maximum contract deal; Portland’s pick at No. 7 is very much on the line, and the Blazers have other storylines to work on as well. The book is only partially written about this trade, based on subsequent moves made by each team, but I suspect we’ll be referencing this deal a lot over the months and years to come.
Edwards: Why the Pistons made a deal with Jerami Grant now
Harper: Gradation of the Pistons-Blazers profession
(Photo by Jerami Grant: Dan Hamilton/USA Today)