The Trail Blazers are stuck between a Jerami Grant and a hard place

Jerami Grant, Portland Trail Blazers. (Photo by Amanda Loman/Getty Images)
Jerami Grant, Portland Trail Blazers. (Photo by Amanda Loman/Getty Images) /

The Portland Trail Blazers acquired Jerami Grant from the Detroit Pistons 10 months ago in exchange for a 2025 first-round pick (via Milwaukee) and two second-round picks.

Since he moved West, Grant has consistently been Portland’s second- or third-best player, depending on the night. An argument could be made that he’s the Blazers’ most valuable player outside of Damian Lillard because of his ability to affect the game on both ends of the floor.

“Jerami Grant is a dynamic two-way forward that can impact winning at a high level,” said Trail Blazers General Manager Joe Cronin after the trade was announced last summer, via “He fits seamlessly into Coach [Chauncey] Billups’ system on both sides of the ball. We could not be happier to have him in Portland.”

Cronin wasn’t wrong; Grant has been exactly that. He’s averaged 20.5 points and 4.5 rebounds since joining the Trail Blazers on 47.5 percent shooting and 40.1 percent shooting from three on almost six attempts per game. He’s having the most efficient offensive season of his career.

Portland offered its most valuable wing a four-year, $112 million contract extension in January, the most it could offer him in-season. Grant turned it down and will be an unrestricted free agent after the year. He’s eligible for a five-year, $233 million deal max deal this summer.

The chances the 29-year-old gets that full max are slim, but he’ll certainly command a hefty salary on the open market as arguably the best wing available.

This begs the question: Should the Blazers re-sign Grant, a player with no NBA awards to his name (he’s never even been on the list of final candidates for any) and no All-Star appearances to a deal that will likely surpass $30 million per season?

The answer – perhaps unfortunately, regardless of anyone’s opinion on the question – is sadly simple: They have no choice but to.

The Trail Blazers are going to be forced to overpay Jerami Grant

Now technically, of course, Portland can’t be forced to do anything. But the alternatives to re-signing Grant are not great.

The Blazers have Grant’s bird rights, meaning they’re allowed to exceed the salary cap to re-sign him. That’s the good news.

The bad news? If the team let’s him walk, there are no salary cap savings. It’s not a case of “pay him $30 million or save that $30 million to use on another free agent.”

Per Spotrac, Portland’s total cap allocations next season, as of right now, are about $197 million. The salary cap is set at $134 million, meaning the Blazers are more than $63 million over the cap. This includes cap holds, which are designed to hold a player’s spot on a team’s roster before a long-term contract can be reached or the player is released.

Grant’s cap hold is $31 million, which is actually a decent estimate of his potential yearly salary should Portland sign him to a long-term deal.

In terms of practical cap space for next season, which Spotrac defines as, “All guaranteed salaries + any dead cap from non-guaranteed salaries + estimated exercised and declined options + estimated retained cap holds and draft pool cap holds,” Portland will have about $21 million in potential space.

The team’s maximum possible cap space, which accounts for all cap holds and exceptions being declined, waived or renounced (including Grant as well as players such as Matisse Thybulle, Cam Reddish, and Justise Winslow) is about $25 million.

So a $4 million difference if the team let’s Grant – and everyone else – leave.

That’s why having Grant’s bird rights is so crucial; it’s either re-sign him or let him walk for nothing with no cap space available to sign a player to replace him.

That’s where the conundrum lies.

The Blazers will essentially be forced to pay a non-All-Star All-Star-caliber money. Grant would be the second-highest paid player in Portland, blowing past Anferenee Simons’ cap hit of $24 million. He would have a similar salary to what Kyrie Irving and Khris Middleton were paid this season.

Whatever you think of Kyrie, Grant is not that caliber of a player and doesn’t affect winning the same way Middleton does.

The other part of this equation is that Portland will be locked into a three-man core of Lillard, Simons, and Grant, barring a dramatic offseason trade. That’s not a championship-caliber trio.

Essentially, the Blazers can re-sign Grant and cap themselves out even further while locking up a core that will keep them in the same purgatory they’ve been stuck in, or they can allow Grant to sign with another team and have no way to replace him.

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Hence, Portland is stuck between a Grant and a hard place. It’s a tough place to be when the “rock” in this situation is a solid player, but not a great one, who must be paid like an All-Star, but isn’t.