Jerami Grant wants a team of his own. Or at least to be 1B to someone’s 1A.
The Detroit Pistons forward had that a year ago after signing a three-year, $60 million contract and getting the key to the ignition. He then backed up Troy Weaver’s faith by playing the best basketball of his career, especially the first half of the season.
So good — and, frankly, so surprising — was Grant’s performance last year that his name got mentioned as a possible All-Star. At minimum, he was a Most Improved Player candidate, and a revelation to all the Denver Nuggets’ fans who watched Grant hang out on the wing while Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray worked their alchemy on the way to the Western Conference Finals in 2020.
It’s almost impossible to know where a player’s arc is headed; the NBA is full of late-bloomers and didn’t-see-them-comings. If Marvin Bagley eventually finds his way into either description, well, the Pistons sure didn’t give up much to get him Thursday before the trade deadline.
Weaver likes high-reward, low-risk moves, like the one he made to acquire the former No. 2 pick, an obviously skilled, 6-foot-11 one-time phenom who struggled for three-plus years in Sacramento. Signing Grant two years ago falls into Weaver’s philosophy, too.
It’s true that the Pistons general manager took a $60 million bet that Grant had more in him than what he showed in Denver. But, really, in the timeline of the franchise’s “restoration” process, as Weaver likes to say, the contract wasn’t much of a bet at all.
In fact, he took a bigger gamble when he didn’t trade Grant on Thursday. As much interest as there was — and reports suggest teams called Weaver until the 3 p.m. deadline — the 27-year-old wing isn’t quite as valuable as he was this time last year or even at the beginning of this season.
He could be even less valuable this summer, when Weaver will have the chance to move him again. On the other hand, Grant could regain the form he showed last season the next 27 games and boost his stock once more.
Even if he does, he isn’t likely to bring in a lottery pick. Perhaps he could garner a first-round pick. But two? As the Pistons reportedly wanted? That seems like a long shot.
The best-case scenario is landing a similarly talented player who is younger and plays a different position. If the Pistons find themselves in the top three of the draft, they will almost certainly grab a long forward who would crowd that spot more than it already is.
Obviously, Weaver didn’t think that player was out there. For now, he deserves the benefit of the doubt.
Besides, there isn’t an enormous rush. The Pistons aren’t a Grant trade away from a playoff push.
Again, it’s a bit of a risk that Grant will keep playing at the level that surprised so many a year ago. Even before he missed almost two months of this season because of thumb injury and health and safety protocols, he wasn’t shooting at the same clip he was a year ago.
Part of that is surely the arrival of Cade Cunningham and the increased role of Saddiq Bey. The rookie playmaker and second-year forward took shots away from Grant. Fewer shots can make it harder to find a rhythm.
And while Grant lost only a couple of shots a game, he also had to learn to play with a ball-dominant, budding star in Cunningham. That takes time. Something he and Cunningham haven’t had much of this season.
Grant and the No. 1 pick have only played 21 games together, not near enough to see how they might ultimately co-exist. Weaver and his coaching staff would like to see what this looks like, especially with Bey and now Bagley in the mix.
This isn’t just about showcasing Grant the next couple months for a summer trade. It’s about truly seeing what they have.
Grant may not fit the “restoration” timeline because of his age, but his presence can give Weaver and head coach Dwane Casey an idea of what Cunningham will look like working with two wing scorers and a rim-running big.
Consider it a basketball Petri dish, for both the organization and for Grant, who presumably hasn’t changed his mind about wanting to play a lead role. The same will be true of Bagley, who becomes a restricted free agent this summer.
If the Pistons like what they see, Weaver can pick up Bagley’s qualifying offer and give himself a good shot at signing him to a longer deal. This would be another gamble.
But then that’s what it takes to find your way in the NBA, where luck is so often the determining factor in securing the kind of stars that lead to winning big.
Weaver got that luck when his team won the draft lottery last spring. He got more luck when he took Cunningham, who began the season injured, then started slowly on the court, but more and more looks like a future star.
The key is finding another future star in this year’s draft. That will require more luck, both in lottery and in selection. For as promising as the top prospects are — Jabari Smith, Chet Holmgren, among others — not all of them will find their way.
Yet if Weaver does, and the Pistons can bank on a couple of foundational pieces, the restoration becomes infinitely easier. Because securing players as planets around the sun isn’t as difficult as securing the sun.
Perhaps that’s where Grant’s value works best, after another young piece arrives, when Weaver can flip him for an asset that suits the overall timeline.
If it doesn’t?
Then Weaver held his cards too tightly Thursday afternoon. And the feel-good story from a year ago will fade away without much to show for it.
Contact Shawn Windsor: 313-222-6487 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @shawnwindsor.