Jerami Grant’s offseason could’ve been straightforward.
He had a strong performance in the playoffs with the Denver Nuggets, showcasing his versatility on defense and ability to space the floor. He emerged as one of the Nuggets’ most important and irreplaceable players.
When he opted out of his $9.3 million player option for the 2020-21 season, the Nuggets were prepared to open their wallet to retain him.
But the Detroit Pistons messed up Denver’s plan. General manager Troy Weaver, a former assistant GM with the Oklahoma City Thunder, became familiar with Grant’s game when he played for the Thunder from 2017-19. Grant emerged as one of the NBA’s better shooters during his final season in OKC, while maintaining his ability to defend all five positions. His lone season in Denver proved his accuracy from 3 wasn’t a fluke.
Grant, 26, was the Pistons’ number one option in free agency, Weaver said Wednesday. They offered him a three-year, $60 million contract based not only on what Grant has accomplished, but on the continued strides he is expected to make.
“Jerami was number one on the list to go after,” Weaver said. “His versatility, his growing, budding offense, but more importantly, what he brings everyday to the Pistons. He’s a guy who works hard, he’s professional, he’s a great teammate. All the things we embody."
Instead of returning to the Nuggets, where he’d be the fourth option at-best on a contending team, Grant decided to bet on himself with the Pistons, who promised him a larger role and an opportunity to prove he can be a primary option.
That gamble will be one of the most prominent stories for the Pistons this season. As a long, athletic and defense-minded forward, Grant (6 feet 8, 210 pounds with a 7-2 wingspan) epitomizes the type of player Weaver wants to build around. They paid a hefty sum to acquire him — more than many expected Grant would receive on the open market.
For Grant and Weaver, there appears little doubt Grant will live up to his contract. Grant said he agonized over the decision to leave a good situation in Denver. Ultimately, the opportunity to continue to grow his game was too good to pass up.
“It was tough,” Grant said Wednesday. “I was in a situation where I was comfortable. I loved my teammates, I loved the organization. It was a lot of things that made me teter between my decision. But at the end of the day, I made the best decision for me and my career. My growth as a player is extremely important to me. It was a challenge, the challenge intrigued me. I made my decision and I’m happy with it.”
Grant was a breakout player in the NBA’s bubble in Orlando. The Nuggets trusted him with the toughest defensive assignments, and he held his own. He was responsible for defending the best wings in the NBA, such as Kawhi Leonard and Luka Doncic. He also switched onto players both bigger and smaller. His ability to switch onto elite guards, such as Donovan Mitchell, sets him apart from most forwards.
Even if Grant has peaked as a player, his contract has a chance to be good value. He has shot around 39% from 3 in consecutive seasons and is one of the league’s best defenders. High-level, two-way role players get paid, and Grant's contract is comparable to others signed this offseason: Former Piston Marcus Morris signed a four-year, $64 million contract with the Los Angeles Clippers; Danilo Gallinari signed a three-year, $61.5 million contract with the Atlanta Hawks.
But the Pistons have higher expectations for Grant, who should be entering his prime. He has improved significantly since being drafted in the second round in 2014, only recently emerging as a consistent 3-point threat. He said he’s still adding to his game, and is embracing the challenge of becoming a featured offensive player.
Weaver believes Grant has yet to play his best and offered high praise, saying Grant would’ve fit both of Detroit’s championship eras — built on tough, physical defense.
“Jerami has really worked on his game, become an outstanding 3-point shooter,” Weaver said. “There’s more there. He’s come here because it’s a big challenge. I’m going to challenge him to become the best Jerami he can become. I expect him to continue to grow. I don’t campaign for players but I’ll say this right now — this guy is worthy of being an all-defensive player, for sure. The defensive mindset, who he is, the offense that people were able to see blossom in the bubble, which he brings to us here in Detroit now, along with his youth, he’s 26 years old. Just hitting his prime. We’re excited about everything he brings to the table as a young man and as a player.”
This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: Why Detroit Pistons, Troy Weaver are betting big on Jerami Grant