The Trail Blazers spent the days leading up to the 2022 trade deadline surgically removing Neil Olshey’s fingerprints from the roster. With Damian Lillard on the mend and Portland mired in the bottom of the West, new GM Joe Cronin picked off most of the high-priced supporting cast Olshey had acquired with Corleone-level ruthlessness—first sending Robert Covington and Norm Powell to the Clippers, and later dealing CJ McCollum to the Pelicans. The returns were modest, at best—a couple of young players and a couple of picks. But it did provide Cronin with something close to a blank canvas to plot out the remaining years of Lillard’s prime.
Yet, Cronin’s first stroke looks pretty familiar to one made by his predecessor: Just over 24 hours before Thursday’s NBA draft, Cronin reportedly agreed to trade the 2025 first-round pick (via Milwaukee) acquired in the McCollum deal to the Pistons for Jerami Grant, a young veteran who fills a void but may not change the big picture in Portland, no matter who owns the team.
Grant, 28, is the kind of do-everything, defensive-minded forward that previous renditions of the Blazers desperately needed. Two offseasons ago, Olshey forked over two first-round picks for Covington in the hopes of filling that exact hole. But as any blogger will tell you, repeatedly, without even asking, Covington is more of a team defender than a stopper you can throw onto the league’s top wings. Grant’s résumé is more bona fide in that regard: In his last postseason with the Nuggets, in the bubble, his most frequent covers were Kawhi Leonard, Donovan Mitchell, and LeBron James. The Nuggets reportedly would’ve matched the surprise three-year, $60 million he got from Detroit in the 2020 offseason simply to keep that defensive versatility in-house. And while Grant’s bid to expand his offensive game with the Pistons produced only surface-level results—he nearly doubled his scoring average and opportunities, but did so on middling efficiency for bad teams—he is a far more versatile offensive option than Covington. While Covington is often resigned to the corner waiting for catch-and-shoot opportunities, Grant can do that plus add some juice to the Blazers offense.
The questions, though, are twofold:
1. Are those upgrades worth an additional $112 million over four years, the maximum the Blazers can (and will likely have to) offer Grant on an extension six months after the trade’s completion? Probably not, in a vacuum, but big-wing defenders are becoming just as hard to find as big wings, and if Grant can help give Portland even a credible defense, after three straight years in the bottom five, Lillard has shown he can propel this team very far.
2. Is a Portland team with Grant appreciably better than the version that Cronin traded away six months ago? That’s a bit more complicated.
As it stands, this is Portland’s core:
Dame— StatMuse (@statmuse) June 22, 2022
Start of something? pic.twitter.com/sR163yFFhS
So Lillard, a smallish scoring guard, a quality guard miscast as a small forward, and a defensive-minded forward? Looks pretty familiar! The Blazers have more financial flexibility than they did under the previous administration ($44 million shy of the luxury tax, per ESPN’s Bobby Marks), but Anferee Simons’s deal in restricted free agency, as well as a possible new deal for Jusuf Nurkic (or a replacement), could eat into that pretty quickly.
The difference will likely come from the big prize of Cronin’s flurry of moves in February: the no. 7 pick, which the Blazers procured by riding a Who He Play For bonanza through the end of the regular season. Yet, there are no easy solutions there, either.
No rookie will provide much positive value next season, let alone a 19-year-old who didn’t play a single game his freshman season like Shaedon Sharpe, the no. 7 pick in The Ringer’s mock draft as of Wednesday. And it would be hard to ask Dame, heading into his age-32 season, to bide his time and see the bigger picture—or worse, buy his cooperation with an extension that could pay the 6-foot-2 guard a whopping $55 million at age 36; it’s easier for Steph Curry to trust in the institution when the cavalry includes two future Hall of Famers, not a micro McCollum.
It may make more sense for the Blazers to keep trading their way through it, and swap no. 7 for another youngish veteran. Yahoo’s Chris Haynes reported Wednesday that Portland is pursuing Toronto’s OG Anunoby, another athletic, defensive-minded big wing with room to grow. But even Anunoby, or a player of similar age and skill, probably wouldn’t get Portland in the upper tier in the West, which figures to be loaded again next season with the likes of Kawhi, Jamal Murray, and Zion Williamson expected to bolster quality teams that didn’t even crack the second round.
The Grant trade looks like a better value than some of the moves made toward the end of the Olshey era. But without a follow-up move with even more gusto, it also may have forged a path that will ultimately lead the Blazers to similar results.