The Trail Blazers pulled off the kind of trade Monday night that could help change the direction of their franchise. And they didn’t have to give up a key player to do it.
Defensively challenged last season, Portland obtained Robert Covington from Houston, who is one of the most respected defenders in the league and a former (2017-18) first-team all-defense selection.
It was a bold move by Neil Olshey, Portland’s president of basketball operations. Olshey has been consistently good with his draft choices and seems to enjoy the challenge of uncovering NBA players, even in the second round. To surrender two of those first-round picks was a major move.
But it also reflects a commitment to going all-in on the near future and being opportunistic when the right situation presented itself.
Houston is having to deal with trade requests from James Harden and Russell Westbrook and this deal seems to signal an obvious intention to begin a rebuild.
Olshey jumped into that situation and was able to obtain one of the best wing defenders in the league and a solid rebounder without touching his core group of players.
Covington, an up-and-down three-point shooter during his career, will likely shoot them better in Portland because, well, most players do. The Trail Blazer halfcourt offense, combined with the penetration skills of Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum, creates a good share of open threes for wing players.
To get Covington, who will turn 30 Dec. 14, Portland sent veteran forward Trevor Ariza to Houston. Covington is a volume three-point shooter who has made threes at a 35.6 percent clip during his career.
The Trail Blazers were one of the worst defensive teams in the NBA last season and a priority for this year is to improve in that category, either through changes in scheme or personnel.
Covington, 6-7, 209, has defended players at all three frontcourt positions and was used as a power forward with the Rockets last season in their undersized lineups, but has most often been used at small forward.
Versatility has been one of his strong points at both ends of the court and will make him a valuable asset in Portland.
The Trail Blazers will make the Rockets’ pick at No. 16 Wednesday night in the draft and then the trade will officially go down after the draft. The other first-round pick sent to the Rockets is lottery protected, beginning next season and through 2027 — and if not conveyed by then it will become a second-round choice.