Robert Covington’s arrival in Oregon 12 months ago was met with excitement and optimism — the Portland Trail Blazers had finally snared an elite 3 and D wing.
In fact, most national NBA pundits applauded the Blazers who gave up Trevor Ariza and two first round draft picks for the former All-Defensive First Team honoree.
Fast forward to the present and the 31-year-old is struggling to deliver on both the 3 and the D facets he’s built his career on. So much so, that earlier this month he lost his starting power forward spot to Larry Nance Jr.
But while he has fallen out of Coach Chauncey Billups’ favor, Covington is still likely to carry cachet around the league. He’s still an above average help defender and has moments where he struggles to miss from long range.
This season, he’s putting up 6.7 points, on 33 percent three-point shooting along with 5 rebounds, 1.2 assists, 1.2 steals and 1.2 blocks, predominantly at power forward but more and more at center with Cody Zeller out.
But with the Blazers in need of a change up, Covington’s expiring $12.9 contract could be on the table as discussions with other teams heat up before the February trade deadline.
Now, just as a disclaimer, below are a few trade suggestions, including Covington and, in some cases, other Blazers players. In no way do I consider myself an NBA trade expert, just someone who tries to see the benefits of deals for all parties involved.
Damian Lillard approached Kelly Oubre Jr. last summer, suggesting he sign with Portland. Unfortunately, the Blazers had few free agency tools to lure the small forward to the Moda Center, prompting him to sign with the Charlotte Hornets for $12 million a year.
Oubre Jr. has had a solid season so far, coming off the bench for the middling Hornets, hitting 16.3 points, hitting 37 percent from behind the arc. Considerably more productive than Covington and at a position of need for Portland, which means the Blazers would have to attach another asset. Enter Tony Snell who has the ability to be one of the better three point shooters in the league.
This deal would indicate the Blazers are ready to move on from CJ McCollum allowing Norman Powell to move to shooting guard with Oubre Jr. at small forward.
To make the money work and to shore up Portland’s already thin big man rotation, sophomore center Vernon Carey Jr. would come back to Portland after only 21 games as a Hornet.
Charlotte has the leverage and the better player here, so the question is whether they’d want Covington’s defensive prowess to help Mason Plumlee plug what has become the league’s worst defense. It’d also be another signal to Lillard that the front office wants to do all they can to keep the six-time All Star in Portland.
Cam Reddish has been a curiously interesting case since he was drafted in 2019. In Atlanta he’s battling Bogdan Bogdanovic, Kevin Huerter and De’Andre Hunter for minutes in an already busy wing core
Hey Portland fans, imagine having a 6’8 athletic small forward who can do a little of everything. I’m not saying Reddish is there yet, but with the opportunity the Blazers can give the former Duke star, it’s a very real prospect.
He’s improved his three-point average to almost 40 percent and has the potential to be an elite wing defender, a legitimate starting wing in this league. Again, assuming CJ McCollum is dealt, and Powell moves to the two, Reddish and Nassir Little could contest for that starting three role.
Given Reddish’s rookie-scale contract, the Hawks would need to send out more for Covington, which might be a concern given they already have a starting power forward in John Collins.
But for argument’s sake, Atlanta has two contracts that might of interest to Portland, namely Solomon Hill and Gorgui Dieng, the latter providing solid big man back up minutes.
Portland also throws in Dennis Smith Jr. as another young guard to support Trae Young.
OK, so we’re broadening the scope and the number of teams. PJ Washington is a player I’ve always coveted, a young long-range shooting power forward, built for now and into the future.
The Pacers are looking to get younger and could be persuaded to break up its cluttered frontline, parting with the floor stretching, defensive minded Myles Turner - a perfect fold for Damian Lillard.
The Hornets get Covington, Nurkic and young wing prospect Oshae Brissett, while the Pacers get pending restricted free agent Miles Bridges, Nassir Little (I know, it hurts), Jalen McDaniels and James Bouknight.
The Hornets dramatically improve their frontcourt, pushing Plumlee into a reserve role, while keeping the guard and wing core mostly in tact.
The Pacers kickstart their youth movement with two solid young player in Bridges and Little who could help them build for their next rise up the standings.
Finally, Portland gets a new flexible frontcourt with players that meet the roster’s actual needs as well as veteran point guard Smith and Carey Jr. as a third-string center.
The obvious one. The exchange of headaches. Given Simmons isn’t playing at the moment, the 76ers receive two high-rotation players, while relinquishing the veteran Green.
We won’t go into too much detail on this one, suffice to say, it makes too much sense both on the court and in the books. It’s up to Daryl Morey to bite the bullet and end the saga that was Ben Simmons in Philadelphia.
For Portland, Lillard gets the perfect playmate on the offensive end and a perennial Defensive Player of the Year candidate — if his mind is on the game.
Covington returns to Philadelphia, ironically where he made a name for himself on the defensive side of the ball, slotting in nicely next to Tobias Harris and Joel Embiid.
Morey’s stubbornness might get in the way on this one, not to mention a pick or two from Portland but this should be done.
This is the trade that Portland executes to move off troublesome and expiring contracts to help set the team up moving forward. Covington, CJ McCollum and Jusuf Nurkic are gone, making way for players that might be able change the trajectory of this team in the present and potentially five years from now.
Portland’s frontcourt gets a talent infusion with Jerami Grant and Mo Bamba able to do things that better complement Damian Lillard and Norman Powell. Olynyk has turned into a handy rotation player, able to shoot and facilitate, lining up nicely alongside the more defensive-minded Nance Jr.
Green has the potential to start at small forward but could also provide veteran leadership off the bench as the door opens for Nassir Little to claim that starting three spot.
The rotation: Damian Lillard, Norman Powell, Nassir Little, Jerami Grant, Mo Bamba with Anfernee Simons, Danny Green, Larry Nance, Kelly Olynyk and Cody Zeller off the bench with Ben McLemore, Tony Snell and Trey Lyles making up the deep bench.
This rotation gives Billups a genuine second banana next to Lillard in Grant, a three-pointing shooting, blocking monster in Bamba and, all of a sudden, a defensively minded roster.
The Pistons get Simmons to pair with Cade Cunningham, a devastatingly talented and young backcourt for the future as well as Covington who they can choose to keep or let go in the offseason.
The Magic get another young point guard, yes another one, with Nurkic able to play alongside Carter Jr. in the frontcourt.
The 76ers get their backcourt facilitator and scorer in McCollum and another shooter off the bench in the Portland-raised Ross.
I know a few of you are going to poke holes in this one. It’s imperfect but provides a framework for how a multi-team Portland-centered deal might look.
The only Western Conference deal, courtesy of our Blazer’s Edge colleague Danny Marang, sees the Blazers taking another shot at a high draft pick in Marvin Bagley while adding a potentially high draft pick.
Not sure how much this helps the Blazers in the short term but it gives them a pick to use in other deals as Interim General Manager Joe Cronin looks to improve this roster.
The Kings get another veteran to place alongside Harrison Barnes and might legitimately look to re-sign him in the offseason.
Bagley, on the other hand, might be one of those frequent victims of circumstance, drafted behind Deandre Ayton and in front of Luka Doncic, it was going to be hard for him to meet expectations. Perhaps, a fresh start might be the path forward.
The Blazers are making moves before the trade deadline. They have to. Covington is likely at the top of that list of those being sent out, along with Jusuf Nurkic and CJ McCollum.
His Portland tenure has been fine but it’s time for him to ply his trade elsewhere, allowing the Blazers to change it up and retain assets next year.