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No, dear reader, you were not traded as part of Tuesday night’s four-team blockbuster that landed Clint Capela with the Atlanta Hawks and Robert Covington with the Houston Rockets.
Thanks for double-checking, though. Sincerely. So many players exchanged hands between the Hawks, Rockets, Denver Nuggets and Minnesota Timberwolves. Responsible people know to cover all their bases.
ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski and Shams Charania of The Athletic and Stadium first reported news of the megadeal, and the full 12-player terms were released in a slow drip from there. Here’s the full scoop (so far):
- Atlanta Receives: Clint Capela, Nene
- Denver Receives: Keita Bates-Diop, Gerald Green, Shabazz Napier, Noah Vonleh, Houston’s 2020 first-round pick
- Houston Receives: Jordan Bell, Robert Covington, Golden State’s 2024 second-round pick (via Atlanta)
- Minnesota Receives: Malik Beasley, Juan Hernangomez, Evan Turner, Jarred Vanderbilt, Brooklyn’s 2020 first-round pick (lottery protected; via Atlanta)
Plenty of moving parts are still in play. The Rockets, being the Rockets, are exploring 26-team expanded scenarios:
Adrian Wojnarowski @wojespn
The trade leaves the Rockets with a brief window until Thursday’s trade deadline to expand this four-team trade to include up to $12M in salary on another player. They could add a player who helps now, take on a player for assets and use those to further upgrade the team, etc.
Fortunately, this framework is complete enough for us to dole out the usual, uber-important batch of winners, losers and, as necessary, incompletes.
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Capela makes so much more sense for the Hawks than Andre Drummond. He is the more versatile defender, though he’ll have a tougher time against the burliest bigs, and his offensive role fits more neatly into their all-Trae Young-everything dynamic.
Drummond has never commanded Dwight Howard volume in the post, but devoting a few plays to him down low is an unofficial obligation. Nearly 16 percent of his offensive possessions are coming with his back to the basket, a demonstrative difference from Capela’s 3.2 percent share.
They are both frequent rim-runners, but Capela has turned into the league’s most frequent cutter as the Rockets have gravitated away from ball screens. The Hawks don’t have to worry about designing plays specifically for him or propping up his volume. He lives to rebound, defend and fill the gaps on offense.
That Atlanta only had to give up one first-round pick is a pretty big win. Capela is dealing with a right heel injury that Rockets head coach Mike D’Antoni hinted could sideline him for a while, and centers who don’t space the floor have become among the league’s most dispensable assets. But the Hawks need someone resembling an interior defensive anchor, and they don’t have to worry about paying an extravagant price to retain him.
Capela is on the books for another three years and $51.3 million. That’s reasonable money for a starting center, and it won’t preclude Atlanta from carving out comfortably more than max cap space over the summer.
Joining the Hawks should return Capela to a more familiar offensive role. They rank fourth in roll-man usage this season. The Rockets, by comparison, are 30th and have been de-emphasizing that element of their attack over the past two years:
Kevin O’Connor @KevinOConnorNBA
Clint Capela didn’t have the same value to the Rockets anymore since they don’t set as many on-ball screens.
The Rockets ranked 7th in plays finished using pick-and-roll in 2016-17, per @SynergySST. It’s been a steady decline since then:
Capela has received ample reps off cuts, as NBA.com’s John Schuhmann noted, but that’s still a departure from his most effective wheelhouse. Atlanta is going to give him more to do off the ball than just chill.
Perhaps that difference in how he’s utilized is immaterial. And even though Capela is leaving a championship contender for a lottery-bound squad, things could still be worse. He doesn’t know what it’s like to play without a premier passer. James Harden has assisted on 48 percent of his made buckets since 2016-17, and he spent two seasons also running beside Chris Paul.
Landing on a team without a table-setting wizard would’ve torpedoed Capela’s offensive utility. He’s instead Trae Young’s newest outlet. Situational downgrades don’t get much more lateral.
Fitting in with John Collins should be similarly easy. Collins takes enough threes—over four per 36 minutes—that they can occupy the same space on offense, and Capela’s mobility off screens should force defenses to collapse and get Collins cleaner looks from beyond the arc.
Their partnership is a little thornier on defense. Capela shouldn’t be switching onto 4s. That’s not ideal but still doable. Collins has improved his rim protection over the last year or so, but he has the physical tools to chase around power forwards. Head coach Lloyd Pierce can always stagger their minutes if the tandem goes belly up.
Feel free to give the Nuggets an incomplete. They clearly have their eye on making another move.
Keita Bates-Diop, Shabazz Napier and Noah Vonleh are solid gets, but they’re not Denver’s best reserves at their respective positions. Bates-Diop isn’t cutting into playing time for Gary Harris or even Torrey Craig. Monte Morris is better than Napier. Vonleh shouldn’t have much of a role once Paul Millsap and Mason Plumlee are healthy, particularly when Michael Porter Jr. is playing so well.
Something else seems afoot. The Nuggets cannot reaggregate any of their acquired players before Thursday’s trade deadline, but they’re a win-now team with a bunch of salary filler and, now, an additional first-round pick in the coffer.
That’s their biggest victory: optionality.
Malik Beasley and Juan Hernangomez are scheduled for restricted free agency this summer, and their limited usage implies they weren’t part of the Nuggets’ bigger picture. Forfeiting Jarred Vanderbilt’s upside stings a little—I may personally never forgive Denver—but the emergence of MPJ rendered him expendable.
Picking up a first-round pick for eventual goners and an intriguing unknown with no clear path to the floor is good business. Even if the Nuggets don’t use it now, they’ll have it in their back pocket over the offseason. They’ve made themselves a more dangerous buyer, both immediately and down the line.
Houston is quite a bit smaller after this trade, and while that’s by design, the offense still, as of now, needs someone to replace Capela’s finishing. Ergo, Bell might actually get to see the floor.
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D’Angelo Russell-to-Minnesota Enthusiasts
Consider the Timberwolves’ furious pursuit of Russell dead. For now. We think.
Shams reported prior to this four-team spectacle that the Golden State Warriors were “moving on from D’Angelo Russell conversations with Minnesota at this juncture.” The first few words were a mind-melting tease, but the rest speaks for itself—as does this trade.
The Timberwolves have not adequately loaded themselves up to reignite talks with the Warriors. They only scooped up one additional first-rounder, cannot reaggregate any of the players they acquired, and both Beasley and Hernangomez are up for new contracts this summer.
Building something around Andrew Wiggins is theoretically possible but remains implausible. If the Timberwolves couldn’t meet the Warriors’ asking price before, adding a non-lottery pick doesn’t change the calculus.
Towns loses twice as part of this deal.
Strike that, make it three times.
Not only is Minnesota worse on paper and an even longer shot to acquire his buddy DLo, but Towns is losing a trusted confidant in Covington.
“I think it’s very obvious [that] he’s my best friend on the team, so it would be very difficult if something like [a trade] was going to happen,” Towns said of Covington following Monday night’s loss to the Sacramento Kings.
Chin up, though, KAT. You haven’t experienced what it’s like to win since Thanksgiving and may have lost the chance to play with two of your best friends, but that only means things can’t get any worse. Probably.
PJ Tucker’s Durability
How much center does Houston expect the 6’5″ PJ Tucker to play?
He’s been starting at the 5 with Capela out, and this move only makes the Rockets smaller. They still have Tyson Chandler and Isaiah Hartenstein, but one is 37 years old and both are getting played off the floor in most postseason matchups. Bell is too mistake-prone to be considered a reliable option.
Houston is handedly winning the minutes and scoring at an insane clip whenever Tucker mans the 5. That’s great. But now he, at the age of 34, may be expected to average, approximately, 48 minutes per game in the middle. That’s not so great.
Nobody on the Rockets should be pulling harder for the team to acquire another big man.
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Acquiring “their guy” is a standalone win for the Rockets.
Covington is a more accurate shooter than he’s shown and a great team defender with excellent hands, and he has the size and mobility to capably guard four positions. Adding someone like him, with two additional years left on his contract, extends Houston’s title window.
Still, the Rockets very obviously treated Covington as the best asset in this deal. That’s equal parts on the mark and dangerous. He has more value to them than Capela in a postseason series, but they’ve severely compromised the depth and size of their frontline.
Pivoting to Tucker-at-the-5 full time isn’t a no-brainer. Those minutes come with substantial wear and tear for the team’s most valuable defender, and the Rockets have not been a sure thing when he’s jumping center. They’re winning those stints overall but coughing up 114.5 points per 100 possessions (14th percentile) and getting trucked on the defensive glass (27th percentile).
Inserting Bell into the rotation helps the depth. It doesn’t shore up the defense. The Rockets need to bring in another big—and probably will. Their capacity to decidedly win this deal depends on who that other center is and, above all, how their latest dice roll pans out when it matters most: in the postseason.
Look, it’s almost impossible for Covington to lose here. He’s going from a Timberwolves squad that currently can’t spell “w-i-n” and has zero above-average floor generals to playing for a championship hopeful piloted by Harden and Russell Westbrook that manufactures wide-open threes more frequently than any team except the Milwaukee Bucks.
And yet, the Rockets might resort to playing him at the 5 for small-but-noticeable bursts if they don’t reel in another big. That would be, well, something—and not necessarily a good something.
In trading Covington, Timberwolves president Gersson Rosas committed his team to a direction. The return is lukewarm on its face, but there is value in organizational clarity.
Minnesota is rebuilding. Not trying to win, not attempting to straddle two different timelines but actually, genuinely rebuilding. Rosas has made that inarguable.
Reconciling that much-needed unambiguity with the Timberwolves’ larger outlook is tougher. Covington is 29 and has a history of knee problems. He also has two years left on his deal and is among the league’s most coveted three-and-D specialists. In a trade market light on unequivocal sellers, it feels like Minnesota could’ve gotten more.
Clearing salary from next season’s ledger means little with Andrew Wiggins still on the books—and when Covington was on a value deal. Brooklyn’s first-round pick holds only so much curb appeal in a shallow 2020 draft class.
Beasley and Hernagomez are worthwhile fliers for a rotation thin on the wings, but they’re both up for new contracts this summer. Raises are inevitable, even in a cap-craven landscape.
The optics change tenfold if Beasley and/or Hernangomez shows out and then signs a team-friendly contract. And first-round picks slated to land in the top 20 are always useful.
Vanderbilt, meanwhile, isn’t an afterthought. He can run the floor; stick with smaller players and cover a bunch of ground on defense; pass on the move; and rebound well enough to potentially log some minutes at the 5. It isn’t hard to envision a tidy fit with Towns.
Rosas has given the Timberwolves a handful of modest bites at the apple. That’s something. What exactly those opportunities amount to, and how this latest shift impacts the franchise’s relationship with Towns, will play out over the longer haul.