The NBA trade deadline is a marathon leading to a sprint, with the finish line beckoning Thursday afternoon.
The two most persistent Timberwolves-based rumblings — that Robert Covington is available and very well could be dealt, and that the Wolves continue to pursue D’Angelo Russell — gained plenty of steam early in the week. At least on the first note, it proved the old saying about smoke and fire when Covington was dealt late Tuesday in a four-team trade in which several other Wolves were shipped out.
What was a fair return for the Wolves in a Covington trade? And how much should they be willing to give up to get Russell, if that move could still be made before Thursday? Let’s take a look at both.
Covington’s appeal was clear as a versatile forward who’s an elite defender and a capable three-point shooter — all while being under contract for two more years after this at what qualifies in the NBA as a bargain contract ($25 million total the next two seasons).
He’d be a great fit for a team with a championship window, so it’s no surprise that the Rockets ended up with him as they load up for a run.
The Wolves reportedly coveted draft picks in a Covington deal, as they should — two first-round picks, according to a Marc Stein report. The Wolves seemed to soften that stance as the deadline neared, however, and seemed to deal him instead for roster space and intriguing young guard Malik Beasley (among other players).
Covington was probably too good to just flip for a low first-round pick and an expiring contract/salary match. But maybe there’s more of the story still to come?
That brings us to the question of what’s a fair price for Russell? That depends on what you think of him. Then again, what you think of him doesn’t matter. All that matters is what the Wolves think of him.
The Wolves have made it abundantly clear in their relentless pursuit of Russell — first in free agency, and now via a possible trade just a few months into his Warriors tenure — that they think he is a foundational piece of what they want to build.
It helps that his offensive game would complement franchise center Karl-Anthony Towns, and that D-Lo and KAT are friends. Keeping KAT happy might be important in a season that has quickly devolved into frustration. The Wolves have lost 12 in a row. KAT has a personal 16-game losing streak.
But it’s going to cost draft picks, and the draft usually is the best way for a rebuilding, cap-strapped team like the Wolves to remake itself.
But the 2020 draft is shaping up to be one of the weakest in recent history. And as much of a salve as the draft can be, consider this: Of the 70 lottery picks chosen from 2012-16, only 12 of those players have made even one All-Star team. Two of them are Towns and Russell, the first two picks in the 2015 draft.
Wolves President Gersson Rosas is fond of saying “the reality is …” and this is bottom-line reality in this case: If you have a chance to get the player you think can help run your system and start the path back to the playoffs, you go and get him.
I’m not sure Russell — another offensively gifted but defensively challenged player — is the answer, but the Wolves clearly do.
So what’s a fair price? In the end, the answer might be: Whatever it takes, as long as it’s enough to allow them to get Russell.