When the Portland Trail Blazers traded away their second leading scorer CJ McCollum to the New Orleans Pelicans at the midseason trade deadline a few months ago, it was believed that the move was the first domino to fall in a looming rebuilding effort.
Instead, the Blazers have used last February’s deal to reload their roster.
They traded the 2025 first round pick that was part of the package that they received for McCollum for Jerami Grant of the Detroit Pistons. To complete the transaction, Portland and Detroit will swap second round picks in this year’s NBA Draft and the former will also send an additional 2025 second rounder to the latter.
Grant will fill a major hole for a Blazers team that has been perennially undermanned at both forward spots and his acquisition should help keep their six-time NBA All-Star guard Damian Lillard satisfied in the interim.
The eight-year NBA veteran Grant spent the last two campaigns with the Pistons after he signed a three-year deal worth $60 million with them in 2020 to fulfill his dream of becoming a focal point of a team’s offense.
While Grant’s counting stats walked the talk, especially in his first year with Detroit where he averaged 22.3 points per game, his efficiency took a major plunge. After just a few weeks, it became clear that he was not suited for the heavy scoring responsibilities that he desired and his numbers saw a downtick across the board in his second season with the Pistons.
It turned out that the complementary roles that he expertly played with the Oklahoma City Thunder and the Denver Nuggets were already the ideal ones for his skill set. The 6’8 Grant’s ability to hit three-pointers at a decent clip and defend multiple positions were what fueled his rise from relative anonymity and made him a valuable commodity around the league–specifically among contenders.
All indications are that Portland has brought him on to relive his Oklahoma City and Denver days and if he can successfully take a step back into these less glamorous responsibilities, then this team should be competitive in the Western Conference.
Grant’s size, defensive acumen, and overall versatility have been severely lacking from the recent iterations of the Blazers. Since the departure of LaMarcus Aldridge and Nicolas Batum in 2015, they have unsuccessfully tried to fill this gap with players such as Al-Farouq Aminu, Robert Covington, and Carmelo Anthony.
With Grant now onboard, Portland’s best line-up for the upcoming season so far is expected to include him alongside Lillard, veteran center Jusuf Nurkic, the up-and-coming Anfernee Simons, and Josh Hart who was received from the Pelicans in the McCollum trade.
Although this is a dynamic unit that can capitalize on the open looks on offense created by Lillard’s gravity, playing these three guards simultaneously for extended stretches will be a challenge defensively and may lead to an overreliance on Grant and Nurkic to cover for them.
To address this potential issue, the Blazers have been said to have serious interest in small forward OG Anunoby of the Toronto Raptors. It has been reported that Portland is dangling the seventh pick in this year’s NBA Draft for the five-year veteran and the recent rise of Raptors rookie Scottie Barnes may help nudge Toronto towards a deal.
Anunoby and Grant would form a deadly defensive pairing for the Blazers that would mark a significant about face from their recent years of defensive futility.
The Atlanta Hawks’ John Collins has also been recently linked to Portland, though the Sacramento Kings are also said to be in pursuit of the athletic forward. Furthermore, DeAndre Ayton of the Phoenix Suns has also been mentioned as a potential Blazers target, but even a package centered on Nurkic and the aforementioned seventh pick in the 2022 NBA Draft may not be enticing enough to get a deal done.
However, the reluctance of the Suns to give the first overall pick of the 2018 NBA Draft the maximum rookie extension makes this an interesting situation to monitor over the coming weeks.
The acquisition of Grant is a step in the right direction, but Portland will need at least one of these rumored moves, or at least something similar in nature, to help them return to the playoff picture in the cutthroat Western Conference.
Out of the top 10 teams in the West last year, only the Utah Jazz are expected to be worse off in this upcoming season which means that there may only be one slot available for them to take. The Blazers will also have to contend with the Kings and Los Angeles Lakers, both of whom will be looking to bounce back from their disastrous 2022 seasons.
The NBA’s silly season is only beginning and the rest of the league will be curiously watching the moves that Portland makes, cognizant that any steps in the wrong direction may lead to a disgruntled Lillard and open up an opportunity to pry him away from the only franchise that he has ever played for in his 10-year career. The stakes are high for these Blazers and it is time for them to fully embrace win-now mode.