Rockets Trade Covington to Portland. Are Bigger Moves on the Horizon?

The Rockets traded Robert Covington to Portland. Will there be more moves?
The Rockets traded Robert Covington to Portland. Will there be more moves? Photo by Eric Sauseda
Late Monday night, the Rockets dealt Robert Covington for former Rocket Trevor Ariza and two first round draft picks, including the sixteenth pick in Wednesday's draft. No one disputes that the team, which has traded away virtually all of its picks for several years to acquire players like Covington and Russell Westbrook, needs more picks. They are one of the older teams in the NBA with few real prospects in the pipeline.

But, Covington's deal on the eve of draft day also comes amid some incredible stories swirling around the Rockets in an offseason that went from a summer thunderstorm to a category five hurricane in a matter of days. Rapid intensification happens in the Association as well it would seem.

In case you hadn't seen the reports, Westbrook had been complaining for some time about his role with the team and concerns over the direction the organization was going. This may or may not have had to do with the departure of GM Daryl Morey and coach Mike D'Antoni, but it's no secret that Westbrook wants to run the show as he did in OKC.

Following that up came the news that James Harden had turned down an extension that would pay him roughly $50 million per year and make him the highest paid player in the league. Instead, it is said he wants to be traded to Brooklyn so he can reunite with his former Thunder teammate Kevin Durant. It's also been reported that Boston and Philadelphia are trying to get into the mix for the former MVP.

So, as we explained, utter chaos. Which brings about the question: Are the Rockets about to implode the entire team and start from scratch? Covington's trade certainly feels like a precursor to...something.

Still, the Rockets have said they are not planning to move Harden or Westbrook. Any deal to net one of the team's two superstars would have to include a package of players and draft picks. In the case of Harden, a young star (or stars) and a boatload of No. 1s. Whether or not those are forthcoming is impossible to know at this point, but if the Rockets do intend to hold firm to their demands (as they should), it could be an awkward training camp.

Regardless, it has already been a remarkable offseason for owner Tilman Fertitta and the crew at the Toyota Center. Already strapped for cash, with minimal young assets and no draft picks, it makes sense that the Rockets would at least consider imploding it all.

One Twitter user broke down the timeline of the Rockets offseason pretty well here. We have gone from a team that had aspirations for a title to one on the verge of a breakup of epic proportions. One thing you can always say about Houston's NBA representative, they always make it interesting.

All of this is made more dramatic by that very timeline and the names involved. It's not just a couple of disgruntled stars. This is pretty much the entire core of the organization bailing out in the span of a few months. D'Antoni left even though the Rockets wanted him back. He's now an assistant coach. Morey said he was leaving for "family reasons" only to resurface as the head of basketball operations in Philadelphia barely a week later.

Now, we have the rumors that Westbrook and Harden want out, which will almost certainly be the second time they have had to part ways since getting back together in Houston just a year ago. P.J. Tucker wants a new contract and Eric Gordon thinks he isn't used well. Even the Covington deal is strange considering they traded for him at midseason, dealing young talented center Clint Capela in the process.

It's no secret that this is an older team with stars just beginning to reach the backsides of their prime. It's also true that the team has shipped away nearly all of its assets to other teams to build the group of players under its control. So, if this is the end of this era of the Houston Rockets, perhaps burning the whole thing to the ground is the right approach.

The league is a bunch of haves and have nots, teams who believe they are close to a title and those light years away. If there were a time to leverage talent for a rebuild, this might be it, particularly with the league continuing to face issues related to the pandemic.

But, the process of rebuilding in the NBA can be a long, slow slog. What seems exciting to fans tired of coming close and failing to win a title will quickly turn to disappointment and, worse yet, apathy, as the team struggles. The Rockets have some very big, very difficult choices to make. Let's hope Rafael Stone and Fertitta are up to the task. The next decade of basketball in Houston could be riding on what happens in the next couple of weeks.
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Jeff Balke is a writer, editor, photographer, tech expert and native Houstonian. He has written for a wide range of publications and co-authored the official 50th anniversary book for the Houston Rockets.
Contact: Jeff Balke