In Chris Haynes’ Posted up Podcast (the specific episode now appears to have been removed from the site) Jerami Grant is reported to have said “I’m definitely not leaning towards picking up the player option” (H/T Quentan Albertie w/NuggLove). While it’s not clear to me why the podcast was removed, the statement from Grant comes as no surprise. I’ve long suspected, essentially just taken as a given even, that Grant would not play out the final year of his deal and instead opt for free agency. As he notes on the pod though, it’s a bit trickier this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Even at it’s face one might wonder if Grant is truly in line for a raise next season. His counting stats are solid for a rotational player but they are rotational player stats no doubt. If you just look at Grant’s points, rebounds, assists etc he doesn’t come off too much more valuable than really any rotational big. In fact Grant’s basic stats this season (11.6 PPG, 3.5 RPG, a little under a block and a steal a night) aren’t that far off from Willie Cauley-Stein’s last year (11.9 ppg, 7 RPG, a little closer to a block and a steal a game). WCS received a whopping 2 year deal worth $4.46 million...total, last offseason. Other players who put up similar basic stats in 18/19 to Grants 19/20 like Javale McGee, Jeff Green and Rodney Hood did not find the free agent market as lucrative as Grant’s current deal either.
Still it seems like Grant’s future raise is inevitable, why is that? Well, for starters he shoots the three ball really well, like really really well. He’s coming in at a 40% clip this season after putting up a 39.2% mark last season. Nearly two full seasons of 40% three point shooting is enough of a sample size to make Grant’s ability to stretch the floor a premium a lot of teams are willing to pay for and we saw that last offseason. Danny Green, who’s basic stats are right in line with Grant’s as well, was given $15 million per by the Los Angeles Lakers. Bojan Bogdanovic certainly put up better numbers than Grant last season while playing with the Indiana Pacers but also had the benefit of being a full time starter. He might be one of the best comparisons we have because while his offensive prowess has shown to be stronger than Grant’s his ability on defense is lacking. Grant’s not a great defender by any means but does offer that weakside help that Bojan just doesn’t have the athleticism to do. Point I’m making here though is the Utah Jazz lured Bojan away from the Pacers to be their starting stretch four. The Nuggets are likely hoping to keep Grant in the fold to become their starting stretch four. The Jazz gave Bogdanovic a little more than double the $9 million per Grant is due to make next season and that’s because he’s versatile and lights out from deep.
The number of bigs to hit the 40% mark on the three ball in 18/19 was just four, and one of them was Mike Scott who played fewer minutes and took just a handful more threes total that season than Grant has already logged in this shortened 19/20 season (Scott got a 2 year deal worth just shy of $5 million per from the Philadelphia 76ers this offseason). Even if we extend the qualification to include bigs who shot at or above the same clip as Grant did in 18/19 (39.2%) only a pair of combo forwards are added to the list: Harrsion Barnes and Tobias Harris. It’s Barnes that perhaps we find our best synonym to Grant’s free agency. Like Bogdanovic he compiled a more impressive total of counting stats but that was due mostly to the fact that he was getting six and half more minutes than Grant got this season. Look at their per 100 possession numbers and their eerily close. Barnes was also in a similar situation with the Sacramento Kings that Grant is with the Nuggets. Both teams invested assets in acquiring the players in the final season of their contracts and were motivated to keep them. Both teams (we assume in the Nuggets case) are looking to add that player to their starting core long term. Both teams rely on the player to stretch the floor from the forward position and shade between the three and the four. What type of deal did Barnes get from the Kings this summer? 4 years, $21.25 million per.
Barnes definitely represents the high end of the spectrum for where Grant might land in value. Part of that is because Barnes was established as a starter for Sacramento and did in fact put up better total numbers than what Grant has put up this season, but part of that is also because of the uncertainty that hangs over the salary cap for the impending free agency. The NBA salary cap is tied to basketball related income, or BRI,and the players get 51.2% of total BRI in the form of salaries and benefits. That’s very important, the cap under which new deals are agreed to fluctuates each offseason as a direct result to how the league performs financially and not just financially as a whole, but how they perform financially with directly selling their product. BRI is tied to actual basketball things that produce revenue: TV deals, gate receipts, merchandising etc. Perhaps most importantly, it’s not tied to revenue sharing. Suffice to say, everyone expects BRI to take a hit this season because of the fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic which means everyone, Grant included, expects the cap to take a hit as well.
Now, does this mean Jerami should just immediately pick up that player option because the cap is going to see drastic cuts? Not necessarily. Gate receipts are undoubtedly going to be where the NBA gets hurt the most. There is zero indication by what the NBA has stated and by what is being done among other professional sports leagues that fans will be attending any sort of re-start to this season and that will have a noted impact on BRI from the 2019-2020 season. Lost TV revenues, while theoretically can somewhat be curbed once games resume because of increased demand for sports viewing, will certainly have some sort of impact as well. It definitely means the cap is in all likelihood going down. As detailed in an excellent article by Albert Nahmad those impacts could be quite drastic if the NBA takes the hit all at once. Nahmad explains that they don’t have to do that though. The NBA and the NBPA can come to an agreement not bound by BRI on what the cap should be and as Nahmad points out that probably works in the best interest of everyone involved over taking a potential $25 million plus reduction in the cap.
So bringing it back to Grant. Is the cap going to down this offseason? All signs point to yes. However, given that it’s also likely the NBA and the NBPA make an agreement on the cap figure and don’t just take a massive hit all at once, the chances of the cap reducing so much that the Nuggets are either unwilling or unable to give Grant a pay raise seems unlikely. Everything the Nuggets have been doing seems to be in line with Grant taking over as one of the starting forwards next season. They paid the cost of a first rounder to acquire him and we’ve seen Denver’s front office be aggressive in bringing back guys they just paid a 1st rounder to get (see: Plumlee, Mason) and coach Michael Malone has, almost exclusively, inserted Grant into the starting lineup when Paul Millsap has been unable play. Millsap’s contract expires at the end of the season as well. While his future with the Nuggets also remains in limbo and certainly isn’t guaranteed to be over, it seems likely that Denver will prioritize Grant first given he is nine years younger than Millsap and just entering his prime. Will Jerami earn $21.25 million per like Barnes did? Probably not but he’s likely to be far closer to that number, at least in my estimation, than the $9 million he’s due to make if he picks up his player option.
Ultimately, whether or not Grant can earn more than what his player option will pay will be decided by the market (in more ways than one) but given his play, and in particular his ability to shoot the three ball, and given the assumed Nuggets motivation to keep him I’d hazard a guess that he’s going to see a pay raise so long as the NBA and NBPA come to an agreement on where the salary cap will be next year. Given that agreement is in the best interest of all parties the chances of Grant losing out on money because the cap is drastically reduced seems unlikely. All things considered, declining his player option appears to be the savvy and straight forward move for Grant.