The first NBA trade deadline domino has fallen, as a four-team deal that had been building for a while was finally agreed upon on Tuesday night, according to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski. The headliners of the trade are forward Robert Covington, who will head to the Houston Rockets from the Minnesota Timberwolves, and center Clint Capela, who goes from the Rockets to the Atlanta Hawks. Involving 12 players, the trade is the largest in the NBA since 2000, according to ESPN’s Bobby Marks.
There was heavy speculation about Minnesota trying to acquire D’Angelo Russell from the Golden State Warriors, but those talks reportedly fell apart on Tuesday night. Shortly afterward, the Timberwolves pulled the trigger on the Covington trade, which also involves the Denver Nuggets. Here is a look at the full trade, along with grades for each team.
Houston Rockets trade grade: B
The Rockets apparently really wanted Covington, and it makes sense in pretty much all aspects of the way they play basketball. He’s a career 36 percent 3-point shooter and, at 6-foot-7, is an elite wing defender who fits perfectly into the switch-heavy defense that Houston likes to employ. The Rockets are 15th in the NBA in defensive rating, and this move, in theory, could bolster that defense heading into a playoff run when they’ll probably have to deal with the likes of LeBron James, Kawhi Leonard, Paul George and maybe even Giannis Antetokounmpo if they want to win the championship that’s eluded them over the past several seasons.
The problem is they had to get rid of Capela to bring in Covington. The Rockets have had plenty of success with super-small lineups with PJ Tucker at center, but that’s not very realistic against Western Conference opponents like the Lakers, who sport a gigantic front line including Anthony Davis, and the Nuggets, who run their offense through big man Nikola Jokic. Bell had some nice moments with the Warriors, but fell completely out of the rotation with the Wolves and is anything but reliable — defense was never his strong suit to begin with, and he’s only 6-8. The logical answer is that the Rockets will pick up a more playable center in the next day and a half before the trade deadline, or they’ll find someone on the buyout market. Daryl Morey has a track record of making these things work, and you better believe he had a plan to fill their center minutes before making this deal.
Giving up a first-round pick hurts, but Morey and the Rockets are always in win-now mode, so they won’t be shedding any tears, particularly if the deal yields positive results. Overall they got their man, and though Capela was a steep price to pay, their 11-1 record with Capela out of the lineup this season probably led them to believe he wasn’t as valuable to them as he might be to another team — like the Hawks.
Atlanta Hawks trade grade: B+
About two months ago, a member of the Hawks front office reportedly told a frustrated Trae Young that help was on the way. It’s safe to say that this qualifies. Say what you will about the fit between Capela and John Collins, but it was clear that the Hawks needed an upgrade on the defensive end, where they rank 28th in the league with a 113.6 rating. They’re also 21st in the NBA in defense around the rim, allowing 1.193 points per possession, according to Synergy Sports Technology. Capela, a solid rim protector who is agile enough to not get burned too badly on switches, fills an immediate need.
It’s also fun to think about Young’s lob passes going to Capela, one of the best rim-runners in the NBA, instead of Damian Jones or Alex Len, his previous options. With DeAndre Hunter, Kevin Huerter, Cam Reddish and Collins, Hawks general manager Travis Schlenk is building a team of length, shooting and athleticism around Young — and Capela fits right into that vision. They gave up the 2020 Nets’ first-rounder (lottery protected for the next three years) in what is widely considered to be a bad draft, so they’re probably not sweating that much. Basically they got a first-round talent in the 25-year-old Capela, and that seems to be worth the price.
Minnesota Timberwolves trade grade: Incomplete
Covington was one of the hottest commodities of this trade season, and the asking price reportedly was two first-round picks. The Wolves didn’t get that, but they got one first and two potential rotation players in Malik Beasley and Juancho Hernangomez, both of whom are restricted free agents this offseason. If they end up being part of Minnesota’s future plans, great. If not, they let them go in the summer and move on with their first-round pick. Vanderbilt also has some potential untapped upside.
That being said, it’s hard to imagine that the Wolves are done making moves. Whether it’s before the trade deadline or into the summer, they don’t appear to be giving up on their pursuit of Warriors guard D’Angelo Russell. Perhaps they use the first-round pick they received in the trade in an eventual deal. Maybe they use Turner as salary filler in another trade for a win-now player. The point is, we can’t really grade the Wolves’ portion of this trade until we know what they end up with, so they get an incomplete.
Denver Nuggets trade grade: B
The Nuggets took the opportunity to jump into the deal, and ended up with a late first-round pick for two players they may not have retained during this summer’s restricted free agency in Beasley and Hernangomez. Both are nice players who have filled in admirably at times for the injury-plagued Nuggets (Beasley was excellent last season), but both had fallen out of the rotation when Denver is healthy. It would be nice to have that insurance, but the first-round pick seems like a worthy haul for the move.
Their depth also isn’t depleted because they received Napier, who has averaged 11.4 points, 6.4 assists and 3.8 rebounds since joining the starting lineup in Minnesota in late December, and Vonleh, a capable backup big who can fill in should injuries arise (Paul Millsap and Mason Plumlee are currently on the shelf). Bates-Diop also had good moments with the Wolves. It’s not the sexiest trade for Denver, and Beasley was an important player for them last postseason (8.1 points per game on 40 percent 3-point shooting), but they decided to get something for a couple of players that weren’t in the team’s future plans. Also, keep in mind that Wojnarowski reports that Denver will continue to be “active” until Thursday’s trade deadline.