The Houston Rockets and General Manager Daryl Morey showed their aggressiveness in trying to build a championship-contending team on Tuesday, as they played a part in a four-team trade.
In Tuesday’s four-team trade involving the Denver Nuggets, Atlanta Hawks and Minnesota Timberwolves, the Rockets gave up two of the three centers on the roster. Trading away starting center Clint Capela, Nene Hilario and Houston native Gerald Green, the Rockets received stretch forward Robert Covington and Jordan Bell from the Timberwolves.
With 12 players involved in the trade, it marked the biggest NBA deal since 2000 when the New York Knicks sent legendary big man Patrick Ewing to the Seattle Supersonics in a four-team, 12 player trade as well.
Although many people are making jokes about the Rockets after the trade, when you actually look at what Morey gave up for what he got, it isn’t as bad as it seems. Just adding Covington to the Rockets’ roster provide defense that the team lacks.
This will be the third team Covington will play for since last season. Despite struggling to find a home last season, Covington was named to the NBA All-Defensive First Team in the 2017-18 season.
After suffering a knee injury last season, Covington has recovered and played in 48 games this season. In those games, he’s averaged 1.7 steals and 0.9 blocks per game, according to sports-reference.com. With those defensive statistics, he ties for first in steals and second in blocks.
Along with making an immediate impact on the Rockets’ defense, Covington fits in with Houston’s offensive scheme. Anyone who watches the Rockets knows the team lives and dies from beyond the arc. Covington would just add another shooter to the roster as he has shot 36 percent from three-point range since being in the NBA.
Another plus regarding the trade for Covington is his contract. Getting paid a little over $11 million a year, this gives the Rockets more roster flexibility when trying to land another big name before the trade deadline ends on Thursday. In this aspect, trading Capela away with his $15.5 million a year contract makes sense as there are reports of Morey looking for a center before the deadline.
Although Covington brings a lot of pluses for the team, the lack of a center is concerning. As of right now, the Rockets are planning on playing small ball with six-foot-five-inch P.J. Tucker playing the five. Other options to play down low are 37-year-old Tyson Chandler who has averaged 8.8 minutes this season or Isaiah Hartenstein who is in his second NBA season, averaging 9.6 minutes in his career. I wouldn’t bet on Tucker, Chandler or Hartenstein stopping start centers Anthony Davis, Joel Embiid or Steven Adams.
While it is concerning to think about an NBA team playing without a center, the Rockets have done surprisingly well with a small-ball lineup. In the 12 games the Rockets have played without Capela, the team has posted an 11-1 record, according to sbnation.com. With Tucker filling the role as the team’s center, the Rockets have averaged 119 points per 100 possessions versus the team’s 110.3 points with Capela.
Some Rockets fans are upset with the trade because of their attachment with Capela, as he has continued to improve each season. But with Houston’s success with small ball this season, why not go all in? Capela’s only strengths were finishing alley-oops and rebounds. Other than that, he wasn’t doing too much. Especially for a team that revolves around shooting the three, having someone on the court who cannot shoot is a problem.
The trade to acquire Covington is just one example of Morey’s aggressiveness in actively trying to improve the Rockets’ roster. The last major trade in the NBA this season also involved Morey and the Rockets.
On July 11, 2019, Morey traded all-star guard Chris Paul and several future draft picks for the Oklahoma City Thunders’ franchise guard Russell Westbrook. This was a result of the Rockets making several postseason runs but coming up short to the Golden State Warriors.
Paul suffered several hamstring injuries, one of which occurred in game five of the 2018 Western Conference Finals. Many blamed Paul’s injury for the Rockets’ loss to the Warriors, saying he wasn’t a reliable point guard. This wasn’t the reason Paul was traded and replaced, but you can’t help but assume his age and health didn’t play a role in the decision.
Instead of settling for mediocrity, Morey made the move to trade for Westbrook in hopes of getting over that hump. After all-star Paul George left Westbrook for the Los Angeles Clippers, Westbrook made it clear that he wanted out of Oklahoma City after playing there for all 11 seasons of his career.
Although the trade made headlines as the Rockets acquired the nine-time all-star, two-time scoring and assist leader and 2016-17 NBA MVP, one of the things I realized with this trade was Morey wants to win a championship and he wants it now rather than later. Along with Paul, Morey sent Oklahoma City two first-round picks and the right to swap two more first-rounders.
While many were skeptical about the trade because both Westbrook and Rockets star James Harden are both ball-dominant triple-double machines, the move seemed to be the right one. This season, Harden went through a bit of a slump but instead of collapsing, Westbrook took over. In the month of January, Westbrook averaged 32.5 points per game while Harden averaged 28.6, according to sports-reference.com. This is valuable for the team to have a second option, especially knowing fatigue usually sets in for Harden come playoffs.
In addition to Covington and Westbrook, Morey is responsible for bringing big names such as Chris Paul, Carmelo Anthony, Kenneth Faried and P.J. Tucker to the Rockets. This is one thing I respect about Morey. While some general managers are okay with settling, Morey continuously wants to get better.
With the trade deadline approaching, I would not be surprised if Morey has another trick up his sleeve to fill the void of a center. The best time for the Rockets to win a championship is now. We will have to wait and see if his midseason moves will pay off for the Rockets.