The NBA Draft takes place Thursday, and to many Detroit Pistons fans, the most exciting aspect of the day won’t be who the team selects fifth overall, but what they finally get for all those mythical Jerami Grant trades they’ve made in their head for the past 1.5 years.
The fan base, it seems, is done with Grant. Wanting to move on is understandable, and it’s not a stretch to believe Troy Weaver is willing to part with his first major signing if the price is right.
What’s the right price? If you ask 30 GMs every day for 30 days you’ll get 900 answers. If you ask fans on Twitter, you’ll probably just get depressed and want to delete your account.
And even if the Pistons find a willing trade partner and a deal on the table during draft night they have to ask themselves an important question — is a deal now worth more than a different potential deal later?
This is an even more existential question as the team wrestles with the best approach to free agency. You see, the Pistons have ample cap space and plenty of flexibility, but there aren’t many unrestricted free agents who are worth investing in heavily.
As is true most years, some of the best players are restricted free agents, and those players typically don’t change teams. That is because 1. Their incumbent team can match any offer 2. They are typically young and getting better 3. The best of them don’t usually get overpaid because of salary limitations. I mean, when was the last time you heard about a team who regretted signing their awesome young player to a post-rookie max?
The best (perhaps only?) way to pry a restricted free agent from a team is to bribe them via sign and trade. That is where Jerami Grant comes in.
If the Pistons are dead set at chasing one of those big-ticket RFAs like Deandre Ayton or Miles Bridges, they could dangle Jerami Grant as way to convince the Suns or Hornets, respectively, to not match the offer.
So what’s worth more? A guaranteed mid- to late-first-round pick or the potential of using Grant in a trade once free agency opens? Should they take the guaranteed offer now or risk holding onto him and having nothing to show for it because another team has an even better offer for Ayton or Bridges or they just stay with their respective teams?
Choices are simple until reality sets in.
What’s the seventh pick worth anyway?
Another tough reality fans must face is the value of a first-round pick. The answer is exceedingly simple and incredibly complex. The reality is the seventh pick in an NBA draft is typically not worth much in the end. Most players picked in the NBA Draft bust out. But some of them don’t. And some of them, like former 7th overall pick Steph Curry, become some of the greatest players of all time.
You never know what you’re going to get. And while NBA front offices are full of incredibly smart, sophisticated, hard-working people, in the end they are people, and that means they are essentially the embodiment of the Tobias Funke meme from Arrested Development.
The median outcome for the 7th overall pick for the past 20 years is 24.6 career win shares. Jerami Grant is at 28.1, he’s solidly in his prime and he’s a proven starter that is plus on both ends of the floor.
Of course, in a vacuum, Jerami Grant is likely worth more than the 7th overall pick. But things don’t exist in a vacuum. That vacuum gets filled by pesky reality full of nuance. If you trade for Jerami Grant, you have to be a team in a position where it makes sense to also pay him an extension that will likely pay him roughly $25 million per season.
That limits his market to teams interested in veterans who are interested in contending and financially in a position not to balk at adding a player with a significant price tag. That, obviously, is a pretty limited market.
Besides, to a lot of those same teams, with little Tobias Funke rattling in their brain, think that it’s fine to pay Jerami Grant, but isn’t it even better to pay a rookie seventh pick $4.9 and use the rest of that financial flexibility on an additional player? After all, until you submit a name, that seventh pick could be anything — including a superstar better than the good enough but not an All-Star Jerami Grant. Teams feel confident in their evaluation skills even as they know the draft is full of failure and mostly a crap shoot.
For all you know you have the next Steph Curry or more “realistically” the next Richard Hamilton. In reality, you probably have the next Randy Foye and could have Chris Mihm or ... Killian Hayes.
So am I surprised that Jerami Grant, second in MIP voting and Olympian all during his short tenure in Detroit, is not going to get traded for the seventh pick? Not at all. But that’s not actually indicative of his value or worth to other teams. Trades are also just instances of divine circumstance. The needs of two teams in perfect alignment meeting at the right moment to make a deal.
But if Grant truly doesn’t make sense in Detroit because he doesn’t fit the Cade Cunningham timeline or doesn’t mesh well with the team’s new foundational piece then when does it make sense to say yes?
Is it the seventh overall pick from Portland? Sure, but that’s probably not on the table. Unless Damian Lillard says it’s on the table. Is it the 16th pick from Atlanta? Maybe, but the Hawks seem cool to the idea. So do you cut bait and take something in the 20s like Houston did with Christian Wood?
The answer might be yes, but that means you have limited your ability to navigate free agency. That might still make it the correct call, but having options is usually a good thing.
Every choice has a cost to the Pistons, including losing out on Grant’s play on the floor and fit in the locker room.
So what’s Jerami Grant’s value? What’s the value of a draft pick? What’s the value of a free agent?
The answer is always unknown until the moment a deal is made. But Detroit can only do the deal once and then the gift is unwrapped and the possibilities are gone forever.
Until next Christmas, I suppose.