The 2020 NBA trade deadline has its first deal, and it’s a big one. A four-team trade has been agreed upon between the Houston Rockets, Minnesota Timberwolves, Atlanta Hawks, and Denver Nuggets, according to reports from ESPN and The Athletic.
Here’s what each team is getting in the deal.
Houston Rockets acquire: Robert Covington, Jordan Bell
Atlanta Hawks acquire: Clint Capela, Nene
Minnesota Timberwolves acquire: Malik Beasley, Juancho Hernangomez, Evan Turner, Jarred Vanderbilt, first-round pick from the Brooklyn Nets that was transferred by the Hawks.
Denver Nuggets acquire: Gerald Green, Noah Vonleh, Keita Bates-Diop, Shabazz Napier, first-round pick from Rockets
Got it? Let’s break down this deal from every side.
What the Houston Rockets are getting
The Rockets are going all-in on small ball. By trading Capela, their 25-year-old starting center, and acquiring wing Covington, Houston is committing to a five-out approach it has used in recent weeks as Capela has battled a heel injury.
Houston’s recent closing lineups have featured 6’5 veteran forward P.J. Tucker playing the de facto center spot. Adding Covington to that group gives the Rockets another long, rangy forward who can defend multiple positions and stretch the floor on offense out to three-point range. Covington has long been a player considered more impactful than his per-game stats would indicate. He finished in the top-10 of real plus-minus during the 2017-18 season and in the top 25 the year before that (the statistic measures a player’s impact in net point differential per 100 offensive and defensive possessions). He’s averaging 12.8 points per game while making 34.6 percent of his three-pointers this year.
Mike D’Antoni is pushing his small ball system to the limit. The Rockets suddenly feel like their future performance has a lot more variance, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing for a team that hasn’t fully met expectations at 32-18 overall. James Harden and Russell Westbrook are now surrounded by shooters and playing in an ocean of space. Will the Rockets be able to hold up defensively, especially against teams with star big men like the Lakers and Nuggets? Houston ranks third in offensive efficiency and No. 15 in defense efficiency at the time of the trade.
It’s a bold move at a cost of Capela and a first round pick — especially when Houston owes multiple future firsts to the Oklahoma City Thunder as part of the Westbrook trade — but it feels like an appropriate one for a Rockets team that might be in the final year of the D’Antoni and Daryl Morey era. The Rockets also get luxury tax savings, which franchisee Tilman Fertitta will like and fans will not be excited about.
What the Atlanta Hawks are getting
The Hawks have been the worst team in the Eastern Conference for most of the season. Atlanta’s 13 wins are tied for the second fewest in the league and trail only the Golden State Warriors. The progress Atlanta was hoping to see in Trae Young’s second season hasn’t materialized. It’s opting to trade a first round pick (originally owned by the Nets) to secure a long-term option at center in Capela.
Capela made a name for himself as a lob catching, rim protecting center in Houston running alongside Harden. While he doesn’t have much perimeter skill, Capela provides vertical spacing with his hard dives to the basket and the ability to dunk over the defense. He’s also a formidable defensive presence and one of the NBA’s leading rebounders at 13.8 boards per game.
Atlanta has the No. 28 defense in the NBA. The hope is that Capela will provide some defensive support for a young perimeter that features rookies De’Andre Hunter and Cam Reddish, along with second year guards Kevin Huerter and Young. He should be paired with John Collins in the front court, which will give Atlanta length and athleticism but not much floor spacing when they play at the same time. In lineups with Capela as the only traditional big man on the floor, he should find a similar diet of lob passes from Young that he once enjoyed from Harden.
The Hawks were serious about wanting a center. The question is why they cashed in a middling first round pick to get one instead of using their cap space in the summer to sign a player like Andre Drummond outright. While Capela is a good player and fits with Atlanta’s timeline, it doesn’t feel like this moves the needle for the Hawks all that much just yet.
What the Minnesota Timberwolves are getting
The Timberwolves badly want to trade for Warriors guard D’Angelo Russell. Perhaps moving Covington for a first-round pick and an intriguing young wing in Beasley helps Minnesota pull off a deal for Russell. More likely, the Warriors will decline the Wolves’ offer and the draft pick will instead be used to help rebuild a team that has quickly fallen out of the Western Conference playoff race.
If the Wolves don’t eventually use the pick as ammunition for Russell or another veteran, the subtraction of a quality wing like Covington seems to signal a further commitment to a rebuild. What will star big man Karl-Anthony Towns think of that?
Beasley is an interesting piece. The 23-year-old, 6’4 shooting guard was a first-round pick at No. 19 overall for Denver in 2016. Beasley is a career 38 percent three-point shooter but never carved out a major role for a deep Nuggets team. He’s about to be a restricted free agent and turned down a 3-year, $30 million deal in the offseason. What will it cost for Minnesota to re-sign him?
The Wolves are still going to be hot after Russell. While the Wolves weren’t going anywhere with Covington anyway, it’s still tough to like the deal from Minnesota’s perspective until we see what move will follow it up.
What the Denver Nuggets are getting
Nuggets fans are still trying to make sense of this trade from their team’s perspective:
Denver has got to be going for Jrue.— Adam Mares (@Adam_Mares) February 5, 2020
Perhaps another trade is coming, be it for New Orleans Pelicans guard Jrue Holiday or another player. For now, Denver traded much of its young depth at the end of the bench with Beasley and Vanderbilt for an additional first round pick from Houston.
Denver likely didn’t think it could re-sign Beasley after he turned down their extension offer this summer. Napier is a proven bench scorer averaging 10 points and five assists per game this season with Minnesota. He joins a suddenly crowded point guard group that also includes Jamal Murray, Monte Morris, and P.J. Dozier.
This trade likely doesn’t make Denver any less formidable this season. The Nuggets likely want to flip that first rounder for help this year. We’ll see.