NBA Free Agency: Damian Lillard got Jerami Grant PAID as Blazers break the bank in risky deal

The free NBA agency was officially opened, legal Business at 6 p.m. ET on Friday, and one of the first deals to materialize was Jerami Grant’s return to the Portland Trail Blazers on a five-year, $160 million contract.


Grant was expected to return to Portland from the start, and no doubt he’s earned a handsome salary. But this is a stunning deal. The question arises: against whom did the blazers bid? Who exactly out there forced Portland to go that high to keep Grant’s services?

I’ll tell you who.

Damien Lillard.

Did Lillard literally walk into Joe Cronin’s office and specifically ask him to give Grant a bag bursting at the seams? He didn’t have to. The threat that Lillard would leave is ever-present with this deal.

Without Grant, the Blazers can’t even begin to sell themselves as a serious team, let alone a real contender, and if they’re not a contender then do the Lillard bill. It will add up to – he is gone.

The simple truth is that Cronin wouldn’t give Grant even a second to entertain another home if he’s serious about keeping Lillard and Scoot Henderson together. He had to overwhelm him with an offer Grant couldn’t refuse, which he did.

And good for Grant. He’s a good player. When he left Denver for Detroit, he bet on himself to show he could be a top-notch producer, and he proved it. He was the All-Star talk last season when he averaged 20 points on 40% 3-point shooting. He’s not an elite defender, but he’s solid just from his length and athleticism. Put him in any scheme and he will help you on both sides.

But helpful players don’t make as much money. This is the average annual salary of Jayson Tatum’s current contract.

In fact, it’s not just the total amount in dollars. It’s the years. I’m not at all a fan of the Mavericks throwing $126 million at Kyrie Irving, and again I wonder who they were bidding against besides themselves. But at least that’s only a three-year commitment.

Although Grant’s fifth year is a team option, four years is an option loooong Time to commit to that kind of money for a third option player who will be well into his 30s by the end of this deal. Flexibility will be paramount under this new collective bargaining agreement and this deal is decidedly inflexible. It’s not quite Tobias Harris, but it’s not far off. It will be extremely difficult, if not nearly impossible, to trade him.

And given the looming threat that Lillard could ask for it at any time, it’s a heck of a risk if Grant, especially when he’s been making so much money over so many years, would be entirely unnecessary with a team transitioning into a youth movement.

Maybe it works. Maybe Lillard and Henderson will be great together. Perhaps a swap with Anfernee Simons can improve defense. If you’re lucky, you might spot a 50-win team here, and hitting 50 wins in this balanced landscape at least convinces you that you have a chance. And when you get the chance, this deal doesn’t look so bad.

But man, it’s a lot of money betting on all that happens. Under normal circumstances, Grant is likely closer to $120 million. Even the $130 million Houston gave to Fred VanVleet (which was also slightly overpaid, but Houston has the cap and again it’s only a three-year deal) would have been understandable. But $160 million? Grant is good, but he’s not The Good.

Rather, he’s a player the Blazers simply couldn’t afford to lose given their current predicament with Lillard and the inability to replace him. Grant became a free agent at the right time for the right team in the right situation, and because of that, he was paid far better than he likely would have otherwise earned.

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