With Jerami Grant and his hefty contract now in Portland, Detroit can build a strong core around 2021 No. 1 pick Cade Cunningham.
When Jerami Grant went from the Denver Nuggets to the Detroit Pistons on a three-year, $60 million sign-and-trade deal in November 2020, it allowed the superb role player to take on a leadership role on a rebuilding team. But once general manager Troy Weaver selected Cade Cunningham with the top overall pick in the 2021 NBA Draft last July, it was clear that the team would ultimately head in a different long-term direction.
In 20 games after the All-Star break last season, the 6-foot-6 prodigal point guard averaged 21.1 points, 6.5 assists, and 5.7 rebounds per game on 46% shooting, a marked improvement over his first 44 contests. It was no accident that after a 13-45 start, Detroit finished 10-12, giving the team hope that it was headed down the right path.
The Pistons sent Grant and the $21 million left on his contract to Portland on Wednesday in exchange for Milwaukee’s protected 2025 first-round pick, 2025 and 2026 second-round picks, and a swap of Detroit’s 46th pick in Thursday’s NBA Draft for the Blazers’ 36th overall pick.
While Detroit was unable to obtain the coveted 7th overall pick from Portland, it now has at least $43 million in salary cap space to work with — by far the most in the league. Weaver can now spend that money and build a strong nucleus around Cunningham and the 5th overall pick on Thursday.
Could that include a max contract offer to Phoenix Suns center and upcoming restricted free agent DeAndre Ayton? The top overall pick in the 2018 draft averaged more than 17 points and 10 rebounds per game this season on 63% shooting, but curiously didn’t receive a contract extension prior to 2021-22, and was benched in the second half of the Suns’ blowout Game 7 second-round loss to Dallas.
When asked after the game why someone perceived as a franchise cornerstone would only play 17 minutes in an elimination game, all Phoenix head coach Monty Williams said was “it’s internal,” seemingly putting the 6-foot-11 center’s future with the team in question.
Detroit has the means to arrange a sign-and-trade with the Suns as soon as draft day or to sign him to an offer sheet when free agency begins on June 30, preventing Phoenix from a sign-and-trade to potentially recoup assets and forcing it to either matching the offer sheet or lose Ayton for nothing. The same can be said for other top restricted free agents like high-flying Charlotte Hornets wing Miles Bridges and Cleveland Cavaliers guard Collin Sexton.
Weaver can also pursue coveted Dallas Mavericks guard Jalen Brunson, an unrestricted free agent who could end up commanding a $100 million contract with few options for teams on the open market.
Bad contracts hurt teams in the NBA more than in any other league, so Weaver needs to be careful how he spends his money. Grant did lead the Pistons in scoring last season at 19 points per game and will help Damian Lillard and Portland return to the Western Conference playoff picture if the duo stays healthy. But alongside players like Saddiq Bey, Isaiah Stewart, and restricted free agent Hamidou Diallo, all three 23-years-old or under, the Pistons have a unique opportunity to bring about the start of the next golden era for Detroit basketball.