In a complex, consequential turn of events to cap a day of trade speculation, the Rockets, Hawks, Timberwolves and Nuggets agreed to terms on a four-team, 12-player deal late Tuesday night—one of the biggest trades in NBA history. When you boil it all down, it actually makes sense on all fronts. In a sentence (which is hardly enough), the Rockets nabbed Robert Covington as a key playoff rotation piece, the Hawks brought in Clint Capela to fill their hole at center, the Timberwolves acquired Malik Beasley and improved their short-term flexibility, and the Nuggets facilitated the trade in order to recoup a first-round pick for letting Beasley go. This deal may not win anyone the title, but it could end up putting all four teams in more competitive positions going forward.
The timing of this deal is crucial in that it allots all four teams time to make additional moves before Thursday’s 3 p.m. ET deadline. At this point, it’s general knowledge that that Timberwolves have pined for Warriors guard D’Angelo Russell, who they have thus far been unable to pry away. They’re likely to stay active anyway. The Nuggets have been rumored in various potential deals, including reported interest in Pelicans guard Jrue Holiday, and still have chips they can play. The Rockets have designs on contention and are likely not done dealing, now with a hole to fill at center. A once-quiet trade deadline is now moving in earnest, with this deal the first major domino.
Houston Rockets: B
Receive: Robert Covington, Jordan Bell, future second-round pick
At this point, it had become clear that the Rockets would have to rearrange the deck in order to improve their roster, to say nothing of the purported penny-pinching mandate that has trickled down from ownership. That Houston found a creative way to land Covington, one of the more coveted players on the market, given the relatively sparse collection of assets they could realistically deal, is somewhat impressive. Covington, 29, is under contract through the 2021-22 season at an extremely affordable price for a versatile role player of his quality, and gives the Rockets the type of well-regarded wing defender their roster had sorely lacked. He is also a capable catch-and-shoot player and a career 35.8% three-point shooter (he’s at 34.6% this year), making him an ideal fit for Houston’s various looks around James Harden and Russell Westbrook. There’s little question he’s a strong fit.
Surrendering the 25-year-old Capela, a player the Rockets drafted and developed into a strong fit for their offense, has to sting a bit. He’s one of the most productive rebounders in the league. But Houston has come to lean more and more on smaller, versatile lineups that feature P.J. Tucker at center, and the rim-running five-spot has always been the most replaceable role on their roster. They’ve gotten productive minutes out of Isaiah Hartenstein at times, and bring in another big in Bell more likely to match salary than to actually contribute in the postseason. It’s a position they can still address via another trade, or on the buyout market. Getting off of Capela’s long-term money creates some future flexibility, as well.
It’s also well known the Rockets place little value on first-round picks—they haven’t even made one since 2015, so at this point, it’s little parlance in what‘s become widely and justifiable regarded as a poor draft. All in all, this is the first step for Houston as they load up for the stretch run. There simply aren’t many Covington proxies available, particularly under team control and at his price tag, and adding him to the fold (and keeping him from other contenders) is a potentially pivotal step for Houston. If he stays healthy and they squeeze a couple good seasons out of him, the long-term questions surrounding the center position won’t loom too large here. But the Rockets ended up paying something like full price here, and finding another big body to deploy in the postseason now becomes imperative.
Atlanta Hawks: B+
Receive: Clint Capela, Nene
The Hawks have been searching for an upgrade at center, aiming to create a better degree of defensive backbone—a necessity to become a playoff team while structured around Trae Young. Just like that, Capela slides in as a long-term solution and strong role fit, and a particularly attractive addition given that he’s under contract through 2022-23. At that price tag, Capela has to be preferable on some level to Andre Drummond, who had previously been tied to the Hawks, but appears headed for a free agent payday of some substance this summer. It certainly helps that the Hawks only had to give up a surplus first-rounder (the pick belongs to Brooklyn, and will likely be a mid first-rounder or late lottery selection) and Evan Turner’s expiring deal to get it done. Atlanta has a bevy of young, developing players already on the roster, including De’Andre Hunter and Cam Reddish (last year’s lottery picks), and will again pick at or near the top of this year’s draft, given their place in the standings.
The Hawks have to work to put shooting around Capela, and John Collins’ fit on the roster becomes a bit more dubious now. But this is a sensible move that fits the long-term arc of the team, brings in a bankable, productive player, and didn’t cost all that much to get done. The fact he’s still out reportedly with plantar fasciitis doesn’t matter much, provided he gets back to full strength.
Minnesota Timberwolves: B
Receive: Malik Beasley, Juancho Hernangomez, Jarred Vanderbilt, Evan Turner, 2020 lottery-protected first-round pick (from Atlanta, via Brooklyn)
The Timberwolves’ season has turned for the worse, but they may not be done dealing, as they orient their roster for the future,and use this deal to load up on young players and draft assets they can either keep or flip again in another trade. One of the more intriguing storylines left is whether or not they can pry D’Angelo Russell from Golden State in the next day or so. The fact he wasn’t part of this deal suggests that may have to wait. It was widely known at this point that Minnesota was angling for two first-rounders for Covington. The fact they did the deal anyway suggests a degree of haste, particularly with Covington on such a manageable contract. They could have sat on their hands until the draft, tried to trade him then, and probably have found something they liked. The likely mid-first rounder they acquired from the Hawks becomes a useful liquid asset, and if Brooklyn misses the playoffs, the pick defers to next season, also with lottery protection. But it’s not the sort of immediately sexy return that will have the fan base crowing about the future.
The most intriguing piece of this deal is Beasley, who is approaching restricted free agency and was likely to cost more than the Nuggets could afford, at least with their salary cap as constituted. The 23-year-old was in midst of his second season as a full-time contributor in Denver, but had seen his role and minutes decrease this season and his shooting percentages decline, with the Nuggets starting to make room for the emerging, presently healthy Michael Porter Jr., and having a surplus of capable guards on the roster. Whether or not Minnesota aims to keep Beasley on his next deal, they have more options moving forward, adding him to a mix of younger wings that includes Jarrett Culver, Josh Okogie and of course, Andrew Wiggins. But if they keep him, this deal places a bit of inherent risk in Beasley’s fit as yet another scoring-oriented perimeter player.
Hernangomez is a former first-round pick and occasionally productive body who started 25 games for the Nuggets last season but has yet to find a true foothold, and should have a clearer pathway to minutes if he stays in Minnesota. There are still some around the league holding out hope for Vanderbilt, an outstanding rebounder who has thus far lacked the auxiliary skills to stay in a rotation. Both players should get looks for the rest of the season, and if the Wolves can wean any extra value out of either player, there’s some additional upside. At the very least, they get a short-term window to assess Beasley’s fit, and will have another pick to play with in the draft. Covington was Minnesota’s only piece of substantial value, and the return is at least sensible. Whether they could have gotten more for him closer to the draft, we’ll never know.
It’s worth noting that there’s no longer a nominal point guard on the Timberwolves’ roster beyond Jordan McLaughlin, who’s on a two-way contract. Whether or not they’re able to land Russell, either this week or perhaps in the off-season it’s something they’ll have to try and figure out. Turner can fudge some point forward minutes if he stays, but his contract expires this summer, and he could be a buyout candidate, as well.
Denver Nuggets: C+
Receive: Shabazz Napier, Noah Vonleh, Rockets 2020 first-round pick, Keita Bates-Diop, Gerald Green
In essence, the Nuggets helped to facilitate this deal by including Beasley, a player they likely couldn’t keep, and walk away with a first-round pick for their troubles. Denver can still move this pick to upgrade its roster, and previously held no firsts for 2020, with its own pick set to convey to Oklahoma City. Adding it also means the Nuggets are now free to trade their 2021 first-rounder if they choose, which could be a valuable trade chip. (the NBA’s Stepien rule stipulates teams cannot make trades that would leave them without firsts in consecutive future drafts). Houston’s pick will likely land somewhere in the 20s.
The logic here makes sense, but as it stands, the Nuggets are getting the least attractive return, bringing in what mostly amounts to salary filler to make the trade work. Napier gives them a solid third point guard and Vonleh adds size (in a way that Hernangomez and Vanderbilt don’t) to a banged-up frontline currently missing Paul Millsap and Mason Plumlee, at least for the time being. Bates-Diop had seen his role diminish over the course of Minnesota’s ongoing losing streak, and offers a minimal degree of upside. The Nuggets’ deadline will be better defined by what they do next, but netting the first-round pick for Beasley at least achieves what Denver set out to accomplish. It’s better than losing him for nothing, but whether it’s enough to help make a big upgrade to their rotation remains to be seen. If this deal does facilitate something else up their sleeve, it can be re-assessed later.
More on trade