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Grading the Rockets’ trade deadline moves

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How did the Rockets do this trade season?

Houston Rockets v Los Angeles Lakers Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

Tuesday night, over 24 hours from the trade deadline, the Houston Rockets got their man.

Robert Covington was acquired by the Rockets in a massive four-team trade involving the Minnesota Timberwolves, Atlanta Hawks, and Denver Nuggets. In return, the Rockets gave up their home-grown center and fan-favorite, Clint Capela, to the Hawks, along with Nene, and sent off Gerald Green and a 2020 first-round pick to the Nuggets. Houston also received Jordan Bell from Minnesota and a 2024 second-round Golden State Warriors pick from Atlanta.

Thursday, just a few hours before the deadline, the Rockets sent newly acquired Jordan Bell to the Memphis Grizzlies for former Rocket Bruno Caboclo.

How should we grade this?

There are two schools of thought. We’ll begin with the obvious.

The Houston Rockets gave up a huge part of their offense and their starting center, a real talent on the cusp of being an All-Star, for a great defender and solid offensive threat of a wing player. They also sent off a first-round pick. Houston gave up a lot for a guy who may not be as immediately effective as Capela and will have issues guarding bonafide bigs.

Houston now has no big men. They had acquired a potential starting center with a lot of upside in Jordan Bell, but they went and shipped him off for another forward. They also seemingly had no interest in acquiring a real center before the deadline. Of the guys who are going to get real playing time (sorry Isaiah Hartenstein), the tallest listed player is Covington at 6’7”.

It would be nice to say that the traditional center is obsolete in the NBA, and that’s true. But the fact of the matter is that bigs still exist, and there are still rebounds to get and points in the paint to stop — not to mention that there are dominant big men still in the league. It’ll be interesting to see what the seventh-best rebounding team in the NBA does after losing their starting seven-footer.

Now, it’s time for the hard part.

Clint Capela had become nearly obsolete in the Rockets’ gameplan. Houston clearly wants to go small and have space. Capela clogged up the paint and never really developed an offensive game outside of being fed down-low or on the pick n’ roll. Houston has also gone 11-1 in the games Capela didn’t play this season. There could be the sad truth that Capela may have been overvalued by Rockets fans; that he is good, but maybe he is just as good as Covington.

The Rockets are not interested in blocking shots or really even protecting the rim. Instead, they want long, defensive-minded wings to make passes more difficult, clog the paint, and stop drives into the lane before they even begin. They don’t have a big man that’s a liability on the outside, but now have a bunch of guys between 6’4” and 6’7” who can switch on everything — a scheme that took them to the Western Conference Finals in 2018. Houston’s defense is simply proactive.

Outside of the main talking point of losing Capela, Covington is a great pickup, especially for what Houston does. Covington was first-team All-Defense two years ago, one of most versatile defenders in the league, and will immediately bolster Houston’s much-need wing defense. He also adds even more much-needed three-point shooting at 35.1% from deep this year. Covington is the guy they’ve desperately been seeking, and they got him in his prime (for once).

And, if you believe Daryl Morey, this solves their depth issues. Morey told the Houston Chronicle that they now “have at least 10 Mike (D’Antoni) is comfortable putting on the floor to win big-time playoff games.”

He was also fantastic in last night’s big win over the Los Angeles Lakers inside the Staples Center. He finished with 14 points, 8 rebounds, 4 assists, 2 steals, and 2 blocks to go along with 4-7 shooting from deep in the exact type of stat-sheet-filling and game-impacting performance Houston was expecting when they pulled the trigger on the deal.

So, now let us grade it.

Truly, you can not grade this for what you want it to be, but for what it is. No matter how good Capela is or could be, Houston was no longer interested in playing him. They want to stretch the floor, create space, switch everything, and shoot a bunch of threes — they got the best 3-&-D player on the market for that.

Yes, they also gave up Nene and the city’s one begotten son, but due to age and injuries, they were never going to see the floor this season. It’s also believed that the Rockets unnecessarily gave up a first-round pick, but Morey has never valued picks in the first place, and they weren’t interested in winning the trade, just getting their man.

For those reasons, I give the Rockets’ trade deadline moves a:

B

That is a net positive.

Do I wish they hadn’t given up a first-round pick? Sure. Do I wish they would have gotten a center or at least another forward? Absolutely. Would it have been possible to keep Capela and maybe hold out for a better player? Who knows.

I have no idea what the future will hold for Houston, but the Rockets got their guy. That’s all that mattered to them, and after last night’s performance combined with how the small-ball concept has the team on a four-game win streak and back up to the Western Conference’s fourth seed, Rockets fans should be optimistic about the season moving forward.