The Trail Blazers finally did it. Neil Olshey has traded the team’s next two first round picks for a defensive-oriented forward, making it clear that Portland intends to win now. Let’s dig in and see if Robert Covington is worth a pair of first rounders.
Robert Covington: Smart, Versatile, and Long
Covington is one of those players who always magically appears in the right place at the right time, especially on the defensive end. He reads opponents perfectly and consistently puts himself into position to disrupt an offense. It’s no coincidence that Covington finished first in deflections and thirteenth in defensive loose balls recovered in 2017-18. He’s a damn smart player and that translates to making plays.
Covington has also demonstrated excellent defensive versatility. He notably transitioned from a Scottie Pippen-esque roamer on the perimeter for the Timberwolves, sneaking around screens and poking the ball away from cutters, to a solid around-the-rim anchor for the Rockets. Despite standing “only” 6-foot-7, RoCo averaged 2.2 blocks per game after joining Houston in February.
Covington’s smarts and versatility are aided by a 7-foot-2 wingspan and super-fast hands. Because of his length and range, Covington is able to play at any of the frontcourt positions and has matched up against offensive stalwarts from James Harden to Anthony Davis.
Overall, adding a smart and versatile defensive expert to a roster that relied on Carmelo Anthony lackadaisically swiping at cutters for “defense” last season is like stumbling across Crater Lake in the middle of the Sahara. And toss in Terry Stotts’ penchant for maximizing the utility of skilled, cerebral players? Yeah, the Rose Garden will be absolutely filled with Covington jerseys (once fans are allowed back in).
What can’t he do?
Covington’s offensive profile is similar to his defensive profile, but less effective. He knows how to find the right spot at the right time, which translates to spot-up 3-pointers when a defense collapses or reliable cuts when a lane to the rim emerges. But he lacks signature offensive moves that will automatically generate points in a pinch. Worryingly, Covington’s 3-point accuracy also dropped from about 36 percent for his career to around 31 percent in Houston.
On defense Covington is a solid on-ball defender but is most useful as a team defender. The Blazers will welcome any defensive help they can get, so this is not a deal breaker, but Covington also won’t necessarily be best served as a Tony Allen-esque lockdown isolation defender the team needs. This is especially true when RoCo slides over to the 4 or 5 and has to match up with a bigger player.
What did he cost?
The Blazers are sending Trevor Ariza, their 2020 first round pick, and a protected 2021 first round pick to the Rockets for Covington according to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski.
The Rockets are finalizing a trade to send Robert Covington to Portland for Trevor Ariza and 2020 first-round pick and 2021 protected first-round pick, sources tell ESPN.— Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) November 17, 2020
Olshey also used two second round picks to acquire Trevor Ariza, so the final bill for Covington is four draft picks, if you believe in the transitive property of NBA trades.
Four picks, including back-to-back first rounders, does seem a bit steep for a role player, but given that the Bucks just gave up three picks and two pick swaps for Jrue Holiday it’s mostly hard to complain. Covington’s age (29) and contract status (signed through next season, full Bird rights) do play in the team’s favor.
Covington’s and Ariza’s salaries are nearly an exact match at $12.1 million and $12.8 million, respectively, so there is negligible immediate impact on the Blazers’ bottom line. Covington is under contract next season for $13.0 million.
When will this trade officially happen?
Sean Highkin reported on Twitter that Ariza’s contract will not be fully guaranteed until Nov. 20:
The 20th— Sean Highkin (@highkin) November 16, 2020
The Blazers and Rockets must wait until then to officially announce this trade, for salary matching purposes.
Do the Blazers have more money to spend?
The Blazers still have the full mid-level exception ($9.3 million), the bi-annual exception ($3.6 million), and a traded player exception ($7.1 million) to acquire additional players. They also have the full Bird Rights to Hassan Whiteside.
Their current salary obligation is at about $113.3 million, assuming Hood and Wenyen Gabriel are retained, roughly $25.6 million below the tax apron/hard cap. They have four roster spots open.
What does this mean for the Rockets?
lol it’s not great!
“Covington to the Blazers” may be the equivalent of “Nic Batum to the Hornets” in terms of foreshadowing the eventual fate of Houston’s star player, James Harden.
Overall Covington’s not the panacea that will solve all of the Blazers woes at the wing — really, could anyone short of Giannis do that? — but he will provide solid defense and be able to slot in nicely with any combination of Rodney Hood, Zach Collins, or Jusuf Nurkic. That’s a good fit.
In the big picture, this is the first time Olshey has sacrificed a first round pick in a win-now trade since acquiring Arron Afflalo in February, 2015. The Blazers have made a habit of working around the edges to bring in cheap veterans, ranging in quality from Pau Gasol to Rodney Hood, but have hesitated to pull the trigger on any move that requires notable future investment. That changed today and is, hopefully, a precursor of additional moves coming later this week to shore up the bench.