NBA: Analyzing the four-team trade between the Rockets, Hawks, Nuggets and Wolves

NBA Houston Rockets Clint Capela (Photo by Takashi Aoyama/Getty Images)
NBA Houston Rockets Clint Capela (Photo by Takashi Aoyama/Getty Images) /

Analyzing the four-team, 12 player NBA trade centered around the Atlanta Hawks, Houston Rockets, Denver Nuggets, and Minnesota Timberwolves

A stunning four-team, 12 player trade went down late Tuesday night in the NBA world. While it may seem difficult to parse out what exactly happened, let’s discuss how each team fared in this deal:

Atlanta Hawks

Send: Evan Turner, Nets’ 2020 1st Round Pick, Warriors’ 2024 2nd Round Pick

Receive: Clint Capela, Nene

Atlanta made out decently well in this deal, even if giving up a solid first-round pick prevents this from being a home-run from their perspective.

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This trade for Atlanta is essentially Clint Capela for this year’s Nets’ first-round pick and the Warriors’ second-round pick in 2024. The Nets’ pick is as valuable as a lottery-protected pick can be since there is a good chance that they finish with the worst record among playoff teams. There are two key questions that the analysis boils down to from the Hawks’ perspective: one is the value of Clint Capela, and the other being how he fits around their young core.

Where does Clint Capela stack up among the league’s best centers? There is not an argument that he belongs in the superstar or all-star tier, but he is in a group right below that – with the Nikola Vucevic/Steven Adams/Andre Drummond type of players. The issue is that centers are a dime a dozen, so being a top-12ish center is not nearly as significant as being a top-12 point guard or a top-12 power forward.

Capela will help pretty much any team win games, but giving up the 15th pick (even in a weak draft) so that you can pay him $51 million dollars over the next three seasons is not a good value play.

The Hawks have mostly started John Collins at the 4 since he returned from his suspension in December, so Capela presumably replaces Damian Jones/Bruno Fernando in the starting lineup. Capela is a clear upgrade from these two on both sides of the floor. He is one of the best alley-oop finishers in the league and he can make enough plays out of the short roll that it will not be an issue when teams trap Trae Young. While he may never reach his 2017-18 heights again defensively, Capela still gives Atlanta a paint presence that they have greatly lacked.

That being said, there will always be a give-and-take between Clint Capela and John Collins. Even though Collins can look comfortable on the perimeter at times, he still is most effective rampaging to the rim with Trae Young. Capela is not skilled enough to finish in and around tight quarters if they are both stationed in the lane. Atlanta giving up this early on John Collins as a long-term center is interesting. The offensive upside is enormous, but perhaps they concluded that he will never have the size or instincts to make it work on defense.

The Hawks’ “young core” lineup with him playing center has been one of their only successful five-man units all season. Collins could very well end up being versatile enough to paper over the fit issues with Capela. He is still only 22 years old.

At the end of the day, the Hawks just needed more good players to aid their climb towards respectability. It would have been more ideal to use that draft capital to acquire a wing instead, but every team in the league is searching for those kinds of players. Capela’s contract does not really hurt them since they would have had more cap space than they knew what to do with this summer anyway.

Trae Young-led teams will likely never be elite defensively, but Capela will help shore them up on that end. Not all rebuilds in the NBA needed to be like the process-era Sixers. At some point, winning games and showing progress matters even amidst lost seasons.

Denver Nuggets

Send: Malik Beasley, Juancho Hernangomez, Jarred Vanderbilt

Receive: Keita Bates-Diop, Gerald Green, Shabazz Napier, Noah Vonleh, Rockets’ 2020 first-round pick

I am a fan of this deal on the Nuggets’ side, even without considering the possibility of another trade before the deadline. The core element of this trade is acquiring this year’s Rockets’ first-rounder for Malik Beasley and Juancho Hernangomez, both of whom hit restricted free agency after this season. Malik Beasley was a good bench player for Denver last season, and he had some big moments in the playoffs against San Antonio and Portland.

However, ever since he declined the Nuggets’ extension offer before the season the writing was on the wall for his eventual departure. It also did not help that Michael Malone never fully trusted him due to his defensive limitations. The emergence of Michael Porter Jr. left Hernangomez superfluous in Denver’s deep rotation. He has also struggled through injury and inconsistent production these past few years.

Finances have always been a great deal throughout the history of the Denver Nuggets, and this trade serves the dual purpose of not only getting beneath the luxury tax threshold for the 2019-20 season but also helping them with their potential tax crunch later down the road. It was likely never palpable for them to bring back both Beasley and Hernangomez on new contracts (even if they got low-balled in restricted free agency).

This move opens them up to potentially bringing back Paul Millsap this summer. The Nuggets’ basically just kicked the can down the road on having to make tough decisions, while also picking up a modest asset (a draft pick that will likely be in the high 20s). It may seem disappointing to give up on these two young players after just drafting them in 2016, but you have to view this trade through the scope of the organization’s financial constraints, as frustrating as they are for a team on the brink of contention.

Houston Rockets

Send: Clint Capela, Gerald Green, Nene, 2020 first-round pick

Receive: Jordan Bell, Robert Covington, Warriors’ 2024 second-round pick

Daryl Morey, Mike D’Antoni, and the Houston Rockets are pretty much going all-in on small-ball with this trade, which is quite compelling. If the Rockets can find another reliable big (i.e. not Jordan Bell), then I believe that this deal makes them much better. Clint Capela was a key component to James Harden’s mastery of offense. His lob threat allowed Harden to mask his own reduced dynamism at the rim in terms of explosiveness.

The problem was that with the untimely addition of Russell Westbrook to the fray, having two non-shooters on the floor enabled defenses to load up on Harden, unlike anything we have ever seen in basketball history. This stat encapsulates just how difficult it became for the Rockets.

Robert Covington is a great fit for the Houston Rockets. Although his accuracy from deep can wax and wane, he takes enough difficult attempts that I can see him thriving in the Rockets’ spread-floor offense. He is one of the best help defenders in the league, and since Houston will likely be going back to a switch-everything system, this will be crucial to their team defense. Covington is also outstanding on the defensive glass for his position, which the Rockets’ will sorely need in their gang-rebounding efforts.

Think of all of the great centers that Houston will have to go through in the Western Conference – Anthony Davis, Nikola Jokic, Rudy Gobert. It may seem preposterous that starting P.J. Tucker at the five in these potential matchups will work out, but Houston is betting on the math playing out in their favor. The Rockets may be “small”, but it is a far different small than we are accustomed to seeing.

As Steve Kerr put it, “They’ve got a lot of middle linebackers on that team.” Tucker, Harden, and Eric Gordon are all very good post defenders. Houston is playing the odds that for every offensive rebound or post-up bucket that they allow, they are getting that back (and more) on the other end in terms of wide-open 3’s and driving lanes. This is not just borne out when Harden or Westbrook mixes a hapless big man on the perimeter. It is through the cross-matches in semi-transition, through the opposing team undermining the offense to feed the mismatch, or through the other team’s bigs being out of their element on the perimeter and not knowing how to play help-side defense.

Who knows how it all unfolds, but playing this small has never stopped Houston from cobbling together enough stops before. Assuming they find another center, I believe that this trade drastically increases Houston’s championship equity. This was one of the best moves that Morey and the front office could have hoped to make.

With this trade dipping the Rockets beneath the luxury tax, I am sure that owner Tilman Fertitta is quite pleased.

Minnesota Timberwolves

Send: Keita Bates-Diop, Jordan Bell, Robert Covington, Shabazz Napier, Noah Vonleh

Receive: Malik Beasley, Juancho Hernangomez, Evan Turner, Jarred Vanderbilt, Nets’ 2020 first-round pick

This seems to be a pretty light return for Robert Covington on the Minnesota Timberwolves’ side of things. I have long viewed him as one of the most underrated players in the NBA, and at $25 million total for the next two seasons, his contract is pretty team-friendly. Minnesota may have sold at the right time, however, given his age (just turned 29 in December) and injury history. Just a small decline in athleticism can be fatal for a “3-and-D” player, even if Covington is among the best of this archetype.

The Timberwolves appear to be fixated on assembling a team of adequate but limited wings around Karl-Anthony Towns: Jarrett Culver, Josh Okogie, Jake Layman, and now, Malik Beasley and Juancho Hernangomez. There is nothing wrong with that, everybody needs wings, but at some point, you need to consolidate your resources if you want to build a winner. The Brooklyn pick is a higher quality pick than what is typically on the trade market, so that should help the Timberwolves mightily going forward as well.

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It is clear that something had to change with this Minnesota situation, and it is encouraging that Gersson Rosas is going younger and prioritizing shooting. They likely have a long rebuild in front of them. Who knows how long Towns will be able to stomach losing like this for. While I can see these three pieces (Beasley, Hernangomez, 2020 Nets’ pick) all being contributors on the next great Wolves’ team, I would not wager on any of them ever become starter-level players. That to me qualifies as a disappointing return for Covington.