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NBA Trade Grades: Trail Blazers Get Robert Covington from Rockets

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He’s athletic and can play defense. Is he the chosen one who will take Portland over the top?

NBA: Los Angeles Clippers at Houston Rockets Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

The Portland Trail Blazers made trade waves on Monday by packaging a first-round 2020 NBA Draft pick, another in 2021, and Trevor Ariza for Houston Rockets forward Robert Covington. Now that the dust has started to settle, the Blazer’s Edge staff is here to deliver their opinions and grades for Portland’s seemingly win-now move.

The trade:

Blazers Receive: Robert Covington

Rockets Receive: 2020 first-round pick (No. 16), 2021 first-round pick (lottery protected), and Trevor Ariza


Steve Dewald: I’m still in disbelief that the Blazers tossed caution into the wind and made a win-now move in Damian Lillard’s prime. Seriously, it would have been borderline criminal for Portland to keep all their picks during this stretch of Lillard’s career. Covington instantly addresses needs on both ends of the floor. His exploits on the defensive end deserve the lion’s share of the attention, but his offensive floor is higher than both Al-Farouq Aminu and Moe Harkless.

That said, I am bummed about the potential of losing out on a pick in the first round of the loaded 2021 draft class. But I am relieved that the Blazers aren’t going to make a pick inside 2020’s barren mid-round range. Grade: B+

Kyle Garcia: I’m just in shock. I’ve been checking my pulse since the notification came in from Woj trying to make sure I’m alive and this isn’t all a fever dream. I love that Neil Olshey was finally willing to go for it and make a move that actively makes the Blazers significantly better. Covington has been the player Portland has needed for years, and now they’ve got him. While it doesn’t feel great to potentially miss out on a first round pick in the 2021 draft class, getting rid of the 2020 first round pick and Trevor Ariza for RoCo is 100% worth it. This is a great deal for the Blazers. Grade: A-

Dave Deckard: The Blazers got themselves a premium defender (shout out to Dia Miller) who can hit three-pointers at roughly a 35% clip. For reference, that’s about what Nicolas Batum shot during his Portland tenure. It’s also what Al-Farouq Aminu shot, though. Portland will hope that the distractions provided by Lillard and CJ McCollum will provide enough open shots to raise that percentage up a few notches. Could happen.

It’s hard not to drool with pictures of Covington, Gary Trent, Jr., and Zach Collins dancing in your head defensively. That they did it while saving money this year (a bit on Trevor Ariza’s salary and more by not paying a first-round pick) is a bonus. We’ll see what happens in the Summer of 2021, but either way, the deal makes financial sense at the time the ink dries. That’s all you can ask.

There are asterisks. Covington has played three positions in his career. That could be seen as an asset or a detriment. Is he really a small forward anymore? If not, does he crowd out Collins? Besides that, two ghosts haunt him. Aminu is one. Chief was also a good defender, but ultimately his inability to hit threes put a ceiling on the team’s progress. And make no mistake, if Portland wants to get past the Lakers and Warriors in the West, Covington has to be perfect, not just a nice upgrade like Aminu was. Covington wasn’t entirely that in Houston. His shooting dipped. His vaunted defense didn’t make them into a defensive powerhouse. Nor was Minnesota when he was there. Covington helps, but he’ll need help too.

This is more than Neil Olshey has ever spent on a veteran player (intentionally, anyway). It’s a clear signal that the Blazers intend to go for it right now. Whether that’s because of the Lillard-McCollum timeline or something else is beside the point. It needs to work. Otherwise the 2021 first-round pick given up might look pretty expensive three years from now. Grade: B if we’re judging by the rest of the league, B+ for the Blazers in context.

Danny Marang: Well... That was fun! But seriously, the muted talk was that Portland would use their MLE on a 3 or 4 wing type and hope to find some deals where they could. I’d like to give a big shout out to James Harden for calling an immediate “everything must go, Tom Peterson’s and Gloria’s Too, going out of business fire sale” just as the season opened. I’ve hammered Neil Olshey for failing to step to the plate and making a move when it was there to be made... so it’s only fair that I credit him when he did step up.

This is a very good move. I feel like that additional first round pick makes me wince ever so slightly, which typically means the trade is about right. Robert Covington is exactly what this team has needed for years - he’s the upgraded version of Al-Farouq Aminu. He has the length and athleticism, but paired with elite anticipation and high aggression. “RoCo” has graded out as one of the best defenders in the passing lanes since he came into the league - constantly generating turnovers and disrupting offenses with deflections. Portland has been an abysmal team at forcing turnovers and getting easy transition points, the side effect of having one of the smallest and least athletic teams in the league for the half-decade. This is a real gap they can make some ground up in.

As for the grade, I’d normally give this a B+, perhaps A- but the problem here is that Portland likely doesn’t optimize RoCO and play him at the 4. Instead, they’ll slot him at the 3 - push Rodney Hood to the bench and press on with Zach Collins at the 4 and run into the same problems they have in the past by not have a 3rd playmaker on the floor or a more effective short-roll man. With that, I’ll give the move a bit of a knock with a slight notch up for finally pulling the trigger and allowing for Portland to utilize the MLE elsewhere. GRADE: B

Ryne Buchanan: A bird in hand is worth two in the bush. Covington is unquestionably the best individual asset moved in the deal, and is a definite upgrade over Ariza. This essentially boils the trade down to the two draft picks. Covington is better than anyone the Blazers could have considered with the 16th pick, and that will likely be the same for next year’s pick as well. On top of that, Portland keeps all of their young pieces on the roster.

The trade works for both teams, as the suddenly rebuilding Rockets are in desperate need of draft picks after Sam Presti’s Chris Paul caper. However, the fact that neither pick will likely land in the lottery certainly dampens the return for Houston. Overall, I consider this a low-risk, high-reward deal for Portland. A much-needed, two-way forward still in his prime for a pair of dart throws? Count me in. Grade: A

Adrian Bernecich: OK, who kidnapped Neil Olshey and replaced him with a gutsy NBA executive? I want to know ... now.

I am completely blown away by this move. Sadly, I’d become accustomed to the safe, predictable Blazers front office that, let’s be honest, hasn’t made a move like this since the Arron Afflalo trade — and we all know how that panned out.

Yes, the two first rounders are hard to swallow, especially next year’s. But the facts are, this team just got better, no one can argue that. The Blazers have given up a 35-year-old Trevor Ariza and brought back a 29-year-old version of the same player, while also getting cheaper - yes, I know it’s only $800,000 but it’s definitely a plus.

Covington is the player the Blazers have needed next to Lillard and McCollum since the mass exodus of 2015. While last season’s long-range shooting was a touch lower than previous years, Covington is an offensive threat and legitimately spreads the floor. He’s an answer to the question, who’s going to guard Lebron James in the playoffs, a player who can make up for whatever defensive liabilities there are in the backcourt, who can safely guard both forward positions. Grade: A-

Nate Mann: I echo all the comments above about how Neil Olshey making a win-now move is both surprising and welcomed. Covington is a 3-and-D wing Blazers fans have been itching to acquire for the last few years, and even if the price was a bit high, hopefully his contributions on both ends will make it worthwhile. The No. 16 pick in this year’s unspectacular draft isn’t difficult to part with — Covington will make a bigger impact during Lillard’s prime than any non-lottery prospect in the 2020 draft. Losing next year’s pick stings because the draft class is loaded, but again, Portland must focus on forming a roster around Lillard right now to capitalize on his prime.

On offense, Covington won’t be asked to do much beyond loiter in the corner and make the occasional opportune cut. He’s displayed proficiency in both, although his three-point shooting does leave a little to be desired; from the corners last year, he shot 25/69 (36.2%). Defensively, Covington can guard bigger wings, something the Blazers didn’t have last year, especially with Ariza missing for the bubble. Hood and Trent Jr. are plus-defenders, but they can’t stick with bigger forwards like Covington can. He’s also a fantastic help defender, a defensive archetype the Lillard-McCollum backcourt will massively benefit from.

Overall, I give the trade a B+. Giving up two first round picks, more specifically next year’s first rounder, is tough to swallow. But Covington instantly boosts Portland’s horrendous defense and illustrates that the front office is ready to make win-now moves. Plus, the trade saves a bit of money, allowing for a smidge of extra flexibility in filling out the rest of the roster.

Want more? Here’s how analysts at our sister site The Dream Shake talked about Covington before the summer restart and after the Rockets exited the playoffs.