Why did Durant and Lillard want Detroit Pistons’ Jerami Grant on Olympic team

Kevin Durant (35) drives to the basket in front of Oklahoma City Thunder forward Jerami Grant (9) . Mandatory Credit: Mark D. Smith-USA TODAY Sports
Kevin Durant (35) drives to the basket in front of Oklahoma City Thunder forward Jerami Grant (9) . Mandatory Credit: Mark D. Smith-USA TODAY Sports /

According to reports, Kevin Durant and Damian Lillard intervened with USA Basketball to get Jerami Grant of the Detroit Pistons on the Olympic team, by-passing some bigger names. What was the reason?

As great of a breakout season Jerami Grant just had for the Detroit Pistons, even his most ardent fans never thought ‘Hey, he should be on the Olympic team.’

Yet, here we are. Grant, a 6-foot-9 forward, has been officially named to be part of Team USA for the men’s basketball tournament at the Tokyo Olympics. The Games run from July 25-August 7.

Grant’s international playing experience is scant. He was on the USA Select squad that practiced against the Olympic team in 2016. They only time he actually played for USA Basketball was back in 2012, on a team that won the FIBA Americas U18 championship.

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Due to injuries and the NBA season ending just days before the Olympics, some stars, like LeBron James and Steph Curry, are not on it.

However, the team still has plenty of big names: Kevin Durant, Devin Booker, Damian Lillard, Michigan State’s Draymond Green and Bradley Beal.  Grant will be the only player who has never made an All-Star team (at $20 million a year, he might also be the lowest paid).

Grant had a great 2020-21 season, averaging 22.3 points, 4.6 rebounds and 2.8 assists a game, combined with the outstanding defense he is known for.

But, until this season, Grant was seen as a role player in the NBA. This year, he did not make the All-Star game (he should have) and yet he will be ‘Going for the Gold’ on the most prestigious team an American can be on.

The team was not officially announced until June 28, but there was apparently a lot maneuvering beforehand.

How Jerami Grant of the Detroit Pistons ended up on Team USA for the Tokyo Olympics

According to the Associated Press, Grant and Zach LaVine of the Chicago Bulls were the last players to accept invitations to Team USA.

James Harden had committed to play for Team USA but, due to the hamstring injury that limited him in the playoffs, had to withdraw.

When the opening occurred, Brian Windhorst of ESPN reports (PAID CONTENT) that Lillard and Durant went to coach Gregg Popovich and Team USA managing director Jerry Colangelo, and lobbied for Grant to get Harden’s spot.

It was interesting that both stars went to bat for Grant. He has never played with either of them (Durant left OKC the year before Grant got there). Grant and Durant did both grow up in the Maryland suburbs of Washington D.C.

The news led to some fun, and fanciful, reactions by Pistons fans.


Yeah, getting Kevin Durant and Damian Lillard would certainly move Detroit general manager Troy Weaver’s ‘restoration ‘ process. But the real world, unfortunately, butts into that fantasy.

Due to carrying the last year  of the departed Blake Griffin’s contract, the Pistons simply do not have the cap space to add a max contract player (now 2022 is a different story). Similarly, Portland and Brooklyn would have a difficult time getting Grant’s $20 million to fit their cap space, if Grant had any desire to leave Detroit (which he has not shown).

So lets throw out that this was about recruiting for their respective NBA teams (and how long Lillard will be with his is open to question). It was simply who should be on Team USA.

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Grant was chosen over bigger names like the Knicks’ Julius Randle (who beat Grant out for Most Improved Player) and ex-Piston Tobias Harris. Team USA is lacking in size so, positionally, they could have used Andre Drummond (or maybe not).

But Windhorst phrased it as Lillard and Durant recommended Grant, they did not demand he be on it. The final decision was Colangelo’s and Popovich.

In a press conference following the announcement

of the team, Colangelo had this to say about Grant (via Syracuse.com):

"“He’s become really a good scorer,’’ Colangelo said. “I think he averaged over 21 (points) a game this year. … He’s an athlete. He’s long. I think length is an important ingredient when you’re looking at players who play certain positions.’“Versatility is the key. I think that’s a trademark of this group. Players who can play a couple of positions; some of them even three positions. I think he fits in just like a glove. I think we will have a lot of depth on this team because of that versatility.’’"

Three reasons Jerami Grant is on the USA Olympic team

Analyzing the roster, there are three main reasons Lillard and Durant thought it was a good idea to have Grant on the team:

  1. He does not have to have the ball. Star players usually become stars because of their scoring prowess. Grant did have a great season on offense for Detroit, but his reputation is based on defense. He is used to not being the first scoring option from his time in Denver (Nikola Jokic, Jamal Murray) and Oklahoma City (Russell Westbrook), so a lack of touches will not affect the rest of his game.
  2. Someone has to play defense. The only members of Team USA who made the NBA All-Defensive team were Green, Jrue Holiday and Bam Adebayo. The team has plenty of shooters, but they could use another lockdown defender. Anyone who saw LeBron James quickly call for a pick when seeing Grant was on him in Lakers-Pistons games, will not doubt Grant’s ability to guard at the highest level.
  3. Athleticism & versatility. There are no plodders on this team (except maybe Kevin Love) and they have no true center. It is obvious Popovich is looking for a fast, athletic team that can wear down opponents. As Colangelo said, Grant fits that type of team like a glove.  Due to his athleticism, Grant can defensively go from being a small-ball center all the way down to handling a shooting guard.  His switchability on defense makes Popovich’s job easier.

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That Jerami Grant is on the Olympic team is an amazing accomplishment, especially for a player on a team that went 20-52. The fact that two of the biggest names in the NBA, Kevin Durant and Damian Lillard, wanted him on Team USA, makes it even better.

It has been 13 year since a Detroit Pistons player (Tayshaun Prince) was on Team USA. Watching the Olympics suddenly got a lot more interesting for Pistons fans.