Why Jerami Grant and the Denver Nuggets would each profit from staying collectively – Forbes
Jerami Grant and the Denver Nuggets both rightly have a "significant mutual interest" in achieving it … (+)
With just over four minutes in Game 3 of the Western Conference Finals, the Denver Nuggets – with a streak deficit of two games to zero – were at a crucial point.
After a furious comeback push from the Los Angeles Lakers that cut the 20-point lead Denver had at the end of the third quarter to just three points, MVP LeBron James remained isolated over the three-point arc in the 2020 final.
Protecting James was Jerami Grant, who acquired the Nuggets out of season in 2019. He was the best defender of his opponents, including LeBron and his Lakers teammate Anthony Davis, and Kawhi Leonard and Paul George of the Nuggets Los Angeles Clippers – all among the toughest wings and greats in the league to protect man to man.
In a stop-the-blooding sequence that turned Laker's possession into a five-point nuggets lead, Grant denied James' pull-up three-pointers to force a miss and then stepped as Nikola Jokic from pulled the ricochet back and launched a half-court outlet pass for Grant, who was immediately fouled and sent to the free-throw line, where he delivered both shots.
The crucial crunch time game for Grant, who finished his playoff career with 26 points in that game to give Denver the only win in the series, was a brief recap of how invaluable a two-way player has become to him was the nuggets until the end of his first season with the team.
Now, both Grant and the Nuggets are at another critical crossroads in the midst of an off-season where retaining Grant is a top priority for Denver, while at the same time keeping their ostensive force focused on its future productive season, and especially off it to benefit from impressive playoff performance.
Grant, who can become an unreserved free agent by turning down his $ 9.3 million option, publicly expressed his fairly clear inclination to do just that on the "Posted Up with Chris Haynes" podcast last June to do.
"I'm definitely not inclined to choose the player option," Grant said. "I feel like I've definitely surpassed the nine million I make every year."
"But at the same time, I'd like to get a deal with Denver or something," he added. "It just depends on what we discuss and negotiate when the time comes."
Last month, Mike Singer of the Denver Post confirmed that Grant's intention to opt out was solidified, according to a league source, adding that while Grant wants “to be back” with Denver, it depends on both parties reach an agreement on a new deal.
The Nuggets will undoubtedly face competition from rival teams in their negotiations with Grant, with The Athletic's Shams Charania reporting that "Jerami Grant and Denver are very interested in a new deal," including the Dallas Mavericks, Detroit Pistons and Phoenix Suns teams in particular in the league that has circled Grant as a potential free agent acquisition on their offseason big boards.
The Nuggets had targeted Grant as a fixture to add to their team long before he landed last year and would not have swapped their 2019 first round pick for him if they hadn't both hoped and expected him as a long-term core player to keep .
"He's the guy we've been focused on for a long time," said Tim Connelly, president of the basketball division, in an interview following last year's deal with Grant. He cited "his versatility in the position and his athleticism" noting that "he has become a very good shot". According to NBA.com, Grant has averaged 37.5% on three pointers over the past four seasons.
"We thought a 25-year-old multi-position player like Jerami and who he is as a person would fit seamlessly into our locker room," said Connelly. "We thought the opportunity was too good to miss."
Grant eventually made the promise for Denver that what his versatility, athleticism, and offensive prowess would add – and the reason his free agent holding in the NBA increased – could be seen in the playoffs at both ends of the court.
In one of his many impressive postseason sequences, he wedged LeBron James between two corner points with three pointers:
Although Grant had demonstrated his defensive skills throughout the regular season, he set new standards, especially in rim protection, as seen here where he blocks Rudy Gobert's building step …
… And in this clip, while guarding Kawhi Leonard one on one:
And with its length, athleticism, and ability to put the ball on the ground, Grant's offensive versatility goes well beyond its solid perimeter shooting, attacking close-ups to do dunks and layups, cut to the edge and the ground in Transition to run.
After head coach Michael Malone determined three games in the playoffs in which rookie star Michael Porter Jr. wasn't quite ready to take on the minor injured role of injured Will Barton III, Jerami Grant started Denver's 16 games 19 postseason games in the three and on average the third highest postseason minutes per game in the team with 34 after the star duo Jamal Murray (40) and Nikola Jokic (37).
Grant's outstanding value for the nuggets – with the downside being the difficulty of replacing him if he signs with another team – is unmistakable.
But what about the value to Grant of staying with Denver?
Assuming he signs out, a key aspect of the equation – as he specifically stated on Haynes' podcast – will be maximizing his salary, which he believes (correct from almost all accounts) at his player option level of $ 9.3 million is undervalued.
After trading with Grant, the nuggets have bird rights that allow them to spend over the cap on a new contract. But with Paul Millsap, Torrey Craig and Mason Plumlee also stepping into the free hand, Grant's salary may be self-imposed if Stan and Josh Kroenke's owning family refuse to allow Connelly to spend above the luxury tax limit (with their traditional practice of staying below that line).
With the economic blow from the coronavirus pandemic plunging the league's finances into a whirlwind, it will be difficult to make any even general guess as to the potential dynamics of these negotiations until the league announces the wage cap and luxury tax numbers for 2020-21 Season will be.
However, assuming Denver would match or best meet competing bids to keep Grant, there are some strong incentives for him to stick with the Nuggets.
For one, he worked hard to ultimately earn his way to the playoffs and it wasn't always easy for him to adapt to Denver's unique Jokic-centric offensive style at first.
The numbers show how much progress Grant has made in adjusting to the team over the course of the season, as shown in the table below.
The difference in Jerami Grant's metrics for 2019-20 between the start and end of its season shows a … (+)
Data via WinsAdded.com and NBA.com
In nearly every way, from raw production to shooting percentages to overall efficiency (as indicated here by Jacob Goldstein's PIPM metric), Grant made significant strides from the start of the regular season to the end, all of which are reflected in his illustrated success in the breakout- Playoffs culminated.
As a young and developing player of the same age as the Denver core group (he's almost a year older than Jokic), Grant joined the team not just as an add-on. He became a permanent fixture of his core, growing along with his teammates, and playing a key role in continuing the Nuggets' rise to a legitimate title contender now right on the league's radar screen.
And that pivotal role is sure to grow in size and importance if Grant stays with the Nuggets, as he'll effectively be a lockdown to a full-time starting job if he signs again.
Of the many unanswered questions the Nuggets face this off-season, one major question is whether they will be able to bring back the unreserved free agent and four-time all-star Paul Millsap who was instrumental in growing the team has contributed to success in the three years since it was signed.
Jerami Grant's minutes and role increased with the Denver Nuggets as Paul in the 2019-20 season … (+)
Data via NBA.com
But even if Millsap stays on board, it seems far from certain that he will take on a bank role. As the minutes-per-game trajectory Grant and Millsap played in the table above clearly shows, and season-to-season numbers, Millsap's role has already diminished in scope as he continues on the lee side of his career.
Denver's deal with Grant was clearly made with the looming need for a replacement starter in Millsap's place in mind. And with the chemistry Grant developed both on the offensive with Jokic and as an integral part of the Nuggets' redesigned "Long Boys" defense, he's already established himself as perfect for the role.
Grant may receive offers from the few teams considered stronger championship contenders than Denver, but they likely don't have the financial flexibility to beat the Nuggets.
And vice versa, while teams like the Atlanta Hawks, New York Knicks, or Detroit have plenty of space to come up with offers that could potentially have a huge impact on topping what Connelly's front office sets as the cap on what they can do want to pay for a new grant deal after the coronavirus pandemic and the ensuing economic damage and uncertainty, this possibility now seems far less likely than under normal circumstances.
And in any case, Grant is unlikely to find a role outside of Denver that offers the same combination of streamlining his multi-faceted skills and facilitating his role as a core player for an elite team (or team).
When all financial matters are equal, and all practical realities are taken into account, it is difficult to imagine a more beneficial mutual agreement for Grant and the Nuggets than for each other.
And while the incalculable number of unknown variables makes predicting this NBA off-season a breeze, from today's perspective it seems clear that the best outcome for Jerami Grant and the Denver Nuggets is to stick together for the long term.