According to Michael Scotto of HoopsHype, several teams have expressed interest in newly-acquired Clippers forward Robert Covington since the trade Friday night that brought Covington to Los Angeles along with Norman Powell. For those who don’t know Scotto, he is an extablished NBA reporter on these types of minor rumors and has a strong reputation of accuracy.
Scotto adds that “the Clippers are open to retaining Covington,” so it’s far from a sure thing that he will be dealt again this week. While he is in the final year of his current contract, the Clippers would have his bird rights to work on a new deal this off-season. At power forward, the Clippers currently have the established duo of Marcus Morris and Nico Batum, leaving some questions about where Covington fits into the equation. Each of these guys can play in SF/PF combinations with another, but the Clippers’ long-term outlook includes Kawhi Leonard returning to the team next season (or late this season) and occupying most of the small forward minutes, while younger incumbent wings like Terance Mann and Amir Coffey also have likely earned playing time at the position. Covington can also provide cover as a small ball option at the center position, though the Clippers are dealing with a center logjam now as well. Even though many around the team, including myself, consider Serge Ibaka likely to be moved this week, the team has significant investment in defensive anchor Ivica Zubac and needs to continue to find minutes for Isaiah Hartenstein, who has the best on/off numbers on the team this season.
So, it does feel like something’s gotta give here for the Clippers. Even if you take Ibaka away from the team and don’t add another player to the rotation, they’ve got two established centers getting regular time and three quality veteran power forwards in their prime. Then, Luke Kennard, Terance Mann, and Amir Coffey are competing for limited minutes as the backup wings behind Paul George and Kawhi Leonard, once those stars return from their injuries. New acquisition Norman Powell’s best position is also shooting guard, also he’ll likely play plenty of minutes as a shadow point guard with George handling playmaking duties. At point guard, he’ll compete for minutes with the Clippers’ current leader, Reggie Jackson.
Scotto suggests that the Clippers could hold on to Covington as defensive depth and another veteran in the locker room, and that’s definitely on the table. We know that Ty Lue loves to tinker within playoff series, with support players regularly coming in and out of the rotation as needed during last year’s Western Conference Finals run, and Covington provides the luxury to make those types of adjustments. Want to play heavy centerless minutes? Covington would be a huge asset with Hartenstein out of the rotation. Need a full deck of wing defenders with no defensive liabilities? Covington could replace Luke Kennard for a game. And if someone like Terance Mann is struggling, Covington might fill the same role with a bit more consistency and poise.
In the short term, there’s a role for Covington on the Clippers, even if it’s a small one compared to the 30 minutes per game he was playing this season for Portland, where he started 40 of 48 games. In the long term, a regular role for him would likely only come at the expense of Marcus Morris or Nico Batum. It’s a luxury for the Clippers in several senses: Covington is a great luxury depth player for the next 28 games + playoffs, or he could be turned into a positive return for the Clippers in another trade before this deadline. His presence also makes it easier to explore potential deals for Morris or Batum at this deadline, as he would fit pretty naturally into the PF role for the Clippers (he’s not nearly the shooter Morris and Batum are, but he’ll camp in the corners and do just enough, while being a much better defender than Morris), and his bird rights would likewise give the team options this summer, with Morris under contract and Batum holding a low player option. Assuming Batum opts out, Covington could be insurance if Nico gets a big offer elsewhere. The Clippers could also decide to explore trade avenues for Morris and re-sign both.
For now, let’s peek at what some offers could be from the teams calling the Clippers about Covington this week. It’s probably safe to say that the market for Covington isn’t insanely robust–Portland’s surely been taking calls on him in the lead-up to this trade with the Clippers, and if they thought they could get a first-round pick for him you’d imagine that they would have been able to still avoid the luxury tax by trading Covington separately later instead of throwing him into the Powell deal. There was some chatter that Portland’s value in this trade was getting a first round pick (Keon Johnson) for Powell and a second round pick (Detroit’s 2025) for Covington. If that’s an accurate reading of Covington’s value around the league right now, then the Clippers probably won’t look to trade him. His value as rental depth plus an off-season insurance policy is worth more than a future 2nd. But that being apparent, plus the fact that multiple teams are interested, seems to suggest you might be able to get a little bit more. Maybe 2 2nds? Maybe a useful player coming back as salary matching?
The teams with interest in Covington are obviously going to be good teams with hopes of making a playoff run who would be “buyers.” But Covington being just 31 makes his bird rights a little more attractive than your standard deadline rental–he could easily re-sign with a team and be a rotation piece for several years to come. That makes for easily over a dozen teams that would be interested in adding a player like RoCo to their playoff rotation. The limiting factor here is going to be financial. Teams will need a way to absorb his $12.9M deal, either a large enough trade exception or expendable matching salary. So, who could both use Covington and has a potential trade offer that wouldn’t cost them one of their own core players?
There are only two teams in the NBA with big enough trade exceptions to absorb Covington outright: Orlando and New Orleans. The Magic clearly have no incentive to get into the conversation here, but the Pelicans might–they’re looking like strong contenders for a Western Conference play-in spot with hopes of being playoff-competitive sooner rather than later with a healthy Zion Williamson, meaning that re-signing Covington could work out for them long-term. In addition to that large exception, the Pelicans have the $10M expiring contract of Tomas Satoransky, who Robert Flom mentioned yesterday as a potential stopgap backup point guard for the Clippers. With New Orleans in mind, here are some potential Covington offers from them and other teams:
- New Orleans Pelicans: 2 2nd Rounders, with or without Satoransky. Sato has been dreadful this year and doesn’t warrant compensation. The Pelicans will have bigger fish to fry before looking at a RoCo deal, and Satoransky’s large expiring contract could well be gone as part of a package for a more significant piece than Covington. The Pelicans also have a bucket of future firsts from Milwaukee and the Lakers from the Jrue Holiday and Anthony Davis trades, so it’s possible you could get something like “the worst of NOP/MIL/LAL 2024 1sts.”
- Chicago Bulls: Derrick Jones Jr and Marko Simonovic. Simonovic is just filler here to get the math over the finish line. Frankly, I’m not sure that the Bulls would prefer Covington over Jones Jr., but Chicago is in a tight race for the 1-seed in the East and DJJ, also on an expiring deal, could miss most of the remainder of the regular season with a fractured index finger.
- Phoenix Suns: JaVale McGee, Dario Saric, and 2 2nds. McGee has become redundant with the arrival and emergence of Bismack Biyombo, and Saric is out for the season. Covington would give the Suns another switchable defensive forward to join forces with Mikal Bridges, Jae Crowder, and Cam Johnson–a position where contenders need a lot of interchangeable parts. But with the Clippers getting no short-term utility from McGee and Saric, who is owed $9.2M next season, the two 2nd round picks aren’t enough to sway me and I highly doubt Phoenix coughs up a first.
- Utah Jazz: Joe Ingles and 2 2nds. Ingles is out for the year after tearing his ACL, so the Clippers would simply release his $13M expiring deal to create a new roster spot. It’s just as well, since it’s safe to say the player who injured Kawhi Leonard with a dirty play last postseason wouldn’t be welcomed with open arms in LAC’s locker room. But the Jazz are desperate for defensive help and Covington would give them an interesting addition on that end of the floor, so he could be one of their targets with that expiring deal.
On the whole, if I were the Clippers, I would be holding out for a future first for Covington. Even if it’s a low-value pick (either because it belongs to a good team, or because it’s protected, or both), it gives LAC another relevant asset for a potential future trade package as they try to add high-end talent alongside Paul George and Kawhi Leonard. However, I think they are unlikely to get a first rounder for RoCo at this deadline, which I’m fine with–holding onto him is a pretty good worst-case scenario. I am hesitant to trade Marcus Morris because of his importance to this team, but he’s probably the guy at PF at this deadline who you take a long, hard look to see if you can get a really good return this week while leaving Batum and Covington as your power forwards moving forward.