While James Harden reportedly pushes for a trade to the Nets, the Rockets have been posturing as if they’ll keep him.
Well, Houston just showed its hand.
The Rockets are trading Robert Covington to the Trail Blazers for two first-round picks and Trevor Ariza – the most concrete sign yet Houston is rebuilding.
Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:
To clarify: The Blazers are sending Houston the 16th pick in Wednesday’s draft and another future first-round pick, per sources. Deal can’t be finalized until after Wednesday’s draft. https://t.co/hvBf6JppS5
— Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) November 17, 2020
If the Rockets plan to contend with Harden and Russell Westbrook (who also reportedly requested a trade), it would’ve made sense to keep Covington. He’s such a helpful 3-and-D forward, especially how he fits around stars.
Now, Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum will benefit from his presence.
The protections on the 2021 pick are important in evaluating this trade – but only so much. Covington adds a major missing ingredient in Portland. Until adding Ariza in the middle of last season and before missing him in the bubble, the Trail Blazers were woefully undermanned at small forward. Covington makes Portland far more complete with Lillard and McCollum in the backcourt and Jusuf Nurkic healthier at center.
The Rockets re-acquire Ariza, who was a key cog in their run to Game 7 of the 2018 Western Conference finals. But it’s too late. The time to spend on him was two years ago. Now 35, Ariza is no longer as effective.
I suppose it’s possible Houston sees this as a value play. Even in decline, Ariza can still contribute. And perhaps the picks can be flipped for someone immediately better than Covington. But that seems unlikely.
Especially because this trade adds to the Rockets’ payroll next year, they’re probably not done.
Unloading Harden and Westbrook would be the major – and increasingly inevitable-looking – next steps.