John Amis/Associated Press
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)
First of all: Good lord.
The Hawks have the cleanest-cut win here. Capela makes infinitely more sense for them than Andre Drummond. Not only is he slightly younger and under contract for another three years at a reasonable $51.3 million, but he subsists on cuts and dives at the offensive end without requiring preassigned volume or post touches.
Transitioning from Houston to Atlanta shouldn’t be an issue for the 25-year-old big man. He goes from feasting off one top-tier playmaker, in James Harden, to yet another, with Trae Young. Capela’s fit might even be tidier with Hawks, given how much more they rely on pick-and-rolls to generate offense.
Slotting him beside John Collins could get weird. Both are best suited as rim-runners, and neither should ideally be forced to guard 4s. But Collins does have the lateral shiftiness to cover forwards, and he’s made strides as a rotating help defender over the past year or so. His three-point volume is high enough—over four per 36 minutes—to simplify the offensive fit, though the Hawks will need him to shoot even more to maximize the partnership.
Atlanta can feel good knowing the Collins-Capela synergy is the biggest complication coming out of this trade. Collins’ next contract won’t take effect until 2021-22. The Hawks have time to sort this out. They landed a long-term solution at center while giving up only a single first-round pick projected to fall in the late teens of a shallow draft. That’s more important and a big-time win.
Something else figures to be afoot for the Nuggets. They acquired a trio of useful players in Bates-Diop, Napier and Vonleh, but not one profiles as the first guy off the bench at any position. Though Denver cannot reaggregate any of the incoming players, this move could portend another one.
Not that it needs to. The Nuggets parlayed two eventual goners (Beasley/Hernangomez) and an intriguing unknown with no clear path to the floor (Vanderbilt) into a first-rounder. That pick won’t convey until the late 20s, but it gives them another asset in the arsenal with which to broker trades down the line.
If any of the inbound players stick, they’re even better off. Napier is an early Bird free agent they should be able to afford, and their offense could use another off-the-bounce threat. Vonleh is immediate insurance for a banged-up 4-5 rotation. And Bates-Diop is under team control for another year at a negligible cost, which could prove invaluable should Torrey Craig leave in restricted free agency.
Adding Covington is a standalone win for the Rockets. He is a better shooter than he’s shown with the Timberwolves, and his efficiency should skyrocket within an offense that manufactures more wide-open threes than any team other than the Milwaukee Bucks.
Tacking on his defensive versatility addresses an even larger void. Covington has great hands, is among the NBA’s most dependable helpers and boasts the size (6’9″) and mobility to competently guard four positions. He has more value to the Rockets in a postseason series than Capela, who despite his own athleticism can be played off the floor.
Completing this deal still costs Houston size. That’s by design. PJ Tucker-at-center lineups have become the default and are a matchup nightmare for opponents. This isn’t an unfounded dice roll, but it remains a gamble.
Defense isn’t a given when going that small. Houston is handedly winning the minutes and scoring at an amazing clip whenever Tucker mans the 5, vomiting up 114.5 points per 100 possessions (14th percentile) and getting trucked on the defensive glass (27th percentile) in the process.
Treating Covington as the best player in this deal without bringing back another big precludes Houston from receiving perfect marks. Netting a center on the buyout market won’t change the calculus. The Rockets are leaning into a dependence on small ball unlike anything the league has ever seen. That includes the Death Lineup era Golden State Warriors. This is deal that cannot turn into a full-tilt victory without seeing how Houston fares in the postseason.
(Aside: Congratulations to Tilman Fertitta for once again—and by sheer happenstance, of course—ducking the luxury tax.)
Others have been quick to sing Minnesota’s praises. I’m not there yet.
Team president Gersson Rosas has offered the Timberwolves organizational clarity. This trade steers them into a more gradual timeline after spending the past two seasons caught between competing and rebuilding. There is value in carving out discernible direction.
Capitalizing on Covington’s market now is similarly useful. He is 29 and has a history of knee issues. His trade value is unlikely to get any higher. Minnesota stocks its coffers with another first-round pick, nabs a genuinely intriguing combo big in Vanderbilt—he can really crash the glass and covers a ton of ground at both ends—and has a not-insignificant window to evaluate the long-term fits of Beasley and Hernangomez prior to restricted free agency.
Still, too many balls remain in the air to declare this an inarguable victory.
It feels like the Timberwolves should’ve received a little more for Covington. He has two years left on his deal worth a hair over $25 million, and the market wanted for sellers. I’m not sure if Minnesota properly played its leverage.
Really, though, the tepid impressions have more to do with the number of unknowns. Beasley could price himself out of town in restricted free agency. (Hernangomez’s next deal isn’t as big of a concern.) And beyond that, the impact this move has on Karl-Anthony Towns has to be a thing.
Covington was, by KAT’s own admission, his best friend on the team. Moving him still makes sense, but the Timberwolves haven’t done enough to earn their franchise player’s unconditional trust. Not yet anyway. Dealing Covington while, for now, killing their chances of acquiring D’Angelo Russell, another one of Towns’ buddies, could extract a heavy toll if the team doesn’t sniff relevance in the near future.