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Trade grades: Rockets to ship Robert Covington to Blazers in exchange for Trevor Ariza, two first-round picks – CBSSports.com

NBA trade season is officially upon us as teams wasted no time finalizing deals once the moratorium was lifted on Monday. The Houston Rockets got in the act, agreeing to send Robert Covington to the Portland Trail Blazers in exchange for Trevor Ariza, the No. 16 pick in Wednesday’s draft and a protected 2021 first-round draft pick, according to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski.

The trade will not be completed until after the draft due to the league’s prohibition of trading first-round picks in back-to-back years. Instead of trading the 2020 pick, the Blazers will select whichever player Houston wants on Wednesday, and then that player’s draft rights will be included in the final deal.

With Russell Westbrook and James Harden having already requested to move on from Houston, dealing Covington — an integral part of the Rockets’ small-ball attack after coming over from Minnesota in February — could be the first step in a fire sale that initiates a full-blown rebuild.

Let’s break down how both sides of this trade shakes out.

Portland Trail Blazers receive:

Houston Rockets receive:

  • No. 16 pick in 2020 NBA Draft 
  • Protected 2021 first-round draft pick  

Portland trade grade: A

Covington will be a welcome addition for the Blazers, who lacked wing depth all of last season after the departure of Al-Farouq Aminu and Moe Harkless. The prototypical modern NBA 3-and-D wing, the 6-foot-7 Covington is a 36 percent career 3-point shooter who should be able to space the floor for Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum in a Portland offense that finished third in efficiency last season at 113.2 points per 100 possessions.

Defense, however, is where Covington will make his greatest impact, thanks to his ability to guard multiple positions and pick up deflections, steals and blocks with his long arms and active hands. The Blazers had the fourth-worst defense in the NBA last season, allowing 114.3 points per 100 possessions, after finishing 16th in 2018-19 and sixth in 2017-18. 

Overall this is a win-now move for the Blazers, who clearly feel that Covington can help them improve upon their first-round exit from last postseason. A core of Lillard, McCollum, Covington and Jusuf Nurkic could pose a serious threat in the crowded Western Conference.

Houston trade grade: B-minus

The Rockets re-acquire Ariza, who averaged 12.2 points, 5.1 rebounds and 1.8 steals while shooting 36 percent from the 3-point line in four seasons with Houston from 2014-2018, his second stint with the team. He averaged a career-high 14.9 points, 5.6 rebounds and 3.8 assists for the Rockets in 2009-10. Ariza’s third stint with Houston may not last long if it’s truly committed to a rebuild as he’s a strong candidate to be flipped to a contender given his championship experience.

The picks are why the Rockets made this deal, and they could find a solid future rotation piece with the 16th pick on Wednesday. While this draft class is not viewed as the strongest, the 2021 class is expected to be loaded with talent, potentially making that pick extremely valuable, even with its protections.

Still, though, if the Rockets do indeed enter a full rebuild and trade Harden and Westbrook, why give up Covington so early? Surely Houston could’ve waited to trade him until after the two superstars were gone and created a bidding war between several contending teams that could’ve used Covington’s services. Two first-round picks is a solid get, but the Rockets could’ve gotten a young player for the future as well from another team. Either way, this move signals that Houston is in the process of selling off pieces, which means a rebuild may be in sight.

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