NBA free agency: Damian Lillard’s prints are all over Jerami Grant’s $160 million contract

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NBA free agency opened for official, legal business at 6 p.m. ET on Friday, and one of the first deals to go down was Jerami Grant returning to the Portland Trail Blazers on a five-year, $160 million deal.


Grant was expected to return to Portland, and has undoubtedly earned a significant payday. But this is an attractive deal. It begs the question: Who were the Blazers bidding against? Who exactly out there made Portland go so high to retain Grant’s services?

I’ll tell you who.

Damian Lillard.

Did Lillard literally walk into Joe Cronin’s office and clearly ask him to give Grant a busting-at-the-seams bag? He didn’t have to. The threat of Lillard leaving is all over this issue.

Without Grant, the Blazers can’t even begin to sell themselves as a top team, let alone a true contender, and if they’re not a contender, well, you can make Lillard look good. It’s going to add to this — he left.

The simple truth is that Cronin couldn’t even give Grant a second to host another home if he really is keeping Lillard and Scoot Henderson together. He had to outdo him with an offer that Grant couldn’t refuse, which he certainly did.

And good for Grant. He is a good player. He made a bet on himself when he left Denver for Detroit to show he could be a top producer, and he proved it. He was in the All-Star conversation last season, when he finished with an average of 20 points on 40% 3-point shooting. He is not an elite defender, but he is solid on his length and athletic on his own. Put it into any scheme, and it’s going to help you on both ends.

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

Of course, it’s not just the total dollar amount. It is the years. I’m not 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 guarantee.

Even if Grant’s fifth year is a team option, four years is a team option loooooong time to commit to this kind of money for a third-round pick who will be well into his thirties by the end of this contract. Under this new CBA, flexibility will be king, and this agreement is indefinite. He’s not quite Tobias Harris, but he’s not far off. It will be extremely difficult, if not seriously – almost impossible, to trade.

And with the risk that Lillard could ask at any time, it’s a big risk that Grant would grow up, especially making this kind of money for several years, without the need for a team moving to a youth movement.

It might work. Lillard and Henderson might be great together. Perhaps the Anfernee Simons trade can upgrade the defense. With a bit of luck, you can see a 50-win team here, and in this fair scenario, if you get to 50 wins, you can at least convince yourself that you have a chance. And if you have the chance, this deal doesn’t look so bad.

But, man, this is a lot of money to bet on what’s happening. Under normal circumstances, Grant would probably get somewhere closer to $120 million. Even the $130 million Houston gave Fred VanVleet (which was also a bit of an overpayment, but Houston has room and, again, it’s only a three-year deal) would have been understandable . But $160 million? Grant is good, but not that good.

What he is, instead, is a player that the Blazers could not afford to lose with their current situation with Lillard and were unable 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 got paid a lot more than he probably would have otherwise.

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