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What happens if Jerami Grant leaves?

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The former Syracuse Orange forward has opted out of his player option for the 2020-21 season. Will he choose to sign with a different team?

Denver Nuggets v Atlanta Hawks Photo by Todd Kirkland/Getty Images

Nuggets forward Jerami Grant has officially entered free agency, choosing to decline his player option for the 2020-21 season, according to reports.

As my friend Gordon Gross has already wrote, this was always going to happen. Grant would have been underpaid at $9.3 million for this upcoming season, and the 2021-22 free agency class is a strong one. He showed what he was capable of in the playoffs with the Nuggets, and his strong play in the Orlando bubble will likely translate into a decent raise on his next contract. This allows the 26-year-old forward to sign another big contract that will provide him with life-changing money before he celebrates his thirtieth birthday.

For Nuggets fans, it’s important to not freak out. The Nuggets couldn’t keep him in Denver for the next couple of years without him choosing to become a free agent, and it’s better for the team for him to do so now rather than at the end of the 2021 offseason. He’s going to be an unrestricted free agent, but the number of teams that can afford to sign him is small, and none of those teams have the talent the Nuggets do.

That being said, what if he leaves?

Well, for starters, that’ll really suck. The Nuggets traded a first-round pick to the Oklahoma City Thunder for Grant, and they could have had two picks in the twenties if they hadn’t done that. Michael Porter Jr. has shown promise on the offensive end, but he is a disaster on defense, which is Grant’s strength. Porter Jr. could slot into the combo forward role that Grant played, but what they are capable of is on total opposite ends of the basketball spectrum.

The Nuggets also traded away Juancho Hernangomez, another combo forward that is entering restricted free agency. The Nuggets probably could have signed him to a team-friendly contract, or just matched whatever offer he received, and filled Grant’s spot with Juancho. He’s similar to MPJ in that he offers very little on defense, but at least we know he has a good shooting stroke and can offer the occasional timely blocked shot. (Any chance to bring up his game-winning block on the Warriors, you bet I’m going to.) Juancho probably isn’t coming back, so that’s another option the Nuggets already crossed off for themselves.

The Nuggets would have to target a combo forward in the draft. Free agency has long followed the draft, and the Nuggets can’t rely on finding Grant’s replacement in free agency, especially if he doesn’t make his decision early. All the top replacements could be gone, and they’d be left empty-handed. That means they’d probably try to go for a player like Paul Reed or Tyler Bey, and hope whomever they pick is ready to contribute fast.

They could also target a replacement via trade. The Houston Rockets are a team that could be in a literal garage sale, and although they traded for Robert Covington last season, he’s not a player that is going to be as valuable if James Harden and Russell Westbrook get traded. Covington would be an excellent consolation prize if Grant left, but he’ll likely come with a similar price tag as Grant did — a future first round pick, with no protections.

The Nuggets could try to get a Jae Crowder in free agency, but Crowder is already 30 years old, and he’s not as impactful of a defender. They could target Crowder’s old teammate, Derrick Jones Jr., who is an incredible athlete, has potential as a defender, but can’t do much on offense other than dunk (even if the dunking is incredible). Jones Jr. would be much more affordable, but the Nuggets would miss Grant’s perimeter shooting.

What will I do if Jerami Grant leaves? Ugly cry like Ewan McGregor as I run rampant through the stages of grieving before eventually talking myself into Torrey Craig taking a massive jump.

Let’s hope that doesn’t happen.