Of all the players on the trade market mentioned in connection to the Lakers, perhaps none makes more sense, in terms of age, style of play and team need, than Minnesota forward Robert Covington. The Timberwolves are willing to move him and most front-office executives expect he will be one of the bigger names to actually be called when the trade deadline hits.
Covington is averaging 12.8 points and 6.0 rebounds. He’s a streaky shooter—he is making 34.8 percent of his 3s this year, 37.5 percent in his last 16 games—but he plays with confidence. He has a wealth of experience, from his time in the G-League, through the down years of The Process in Philadelphia on up to a starter in the playoffs for the Sixers, the same type of profile as current Laker Danny Green.
Most important, Covington is 6-9 with a 7-2 wingspan, big enough to guard the 4 but athletic enough to handle 3s. That’s especially important for any team looking to make a serious run to the Finals out of the West this year. At some point, you’re likely to see the Paul George-Kawhi Leonard combo with the Clippers and, probably, Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Bucks for the championship.
The Lakers are short on defenders who can handle those kinds of matchups. That’s one reason they’ve been so consistently connected with Grizzlies forward Andre Iguodala. Covington is signed for two years beyond this, but the numbers are reasonable–$25 million total—and he’s only 29.
He doesn’t have the championship experience that Iguodala has, but he does have more to offer as a player still in his prime. The Lakers should do what they can to bring him to the purple-and-gold, which means finding a way to give the Wolves what they need in a return package.
So, how can they do that? We’ve got some ideas:
Option 1: Getting Kyle Kuzma to the Timberwolves
Lakers get: Robert Covington (MIN), 2020 second-round pick (MIN)
Pistons get: Kyle Kuzma (LAL), Quinn Cook (LAL), Avery Bradley (LAL)
This is the most straightforward way to get a trade for Covington done—simply send away enough salary to match his, with Kuzma as the centerpiece going back to Minnesota. The Wolves get a good young player to add to the lineup and the Lakers get the versatile veteran they want.
Ah but straightforward doesn’t mean simple. To do a deal like this, the Lakers would have to forfeit a good bench piece, Bradley, and would lose Kuzma—a guy the Lakers see as a potential star. Of course, not everyone sees Kuzma with that kind of ceiling which is what has made trade talk around him difficult to sort out.
The Lakers are said to want a first-round pick and a player back for Kuzma and it’s doubtful the Wolves would want to meet that burden. But Minnesota’s second-rounder could have some value. If the Lakers want Covington badly enough, sending away Kuzma without a first-rounder in return will have to do.
Option 2: Getting prospects to the Timberwolves
Lakers get: Robert Covington (MIN)
Timberwolves get: Frank Ntilikina (NYK), Alonzo Trier (NYK), Taj Gibson (NYK), Talen Horton-Tucker (LAL), Quinn Cook (LAL)
Knicks get: Gorgui Dieng (MIN), Avery Bradley (LAL), 2023 first-round pick (MIN)
Taking back a haul of five players and sending out two sounds a bit overwhelming for the Wolves, but they have a roster spot and they’d likely waive (or try to flip) Gibson and Cook. So they could make this work and, in exchange for sending off Covington, they’d get a point-guard prospect in need of a new environment (Ntilikina) and a couple of potential future rotation players in Horton-Tucker and Trier.
The Knicks would need a future pick to be tempted into pulling the trigger here.
There are no stars in that deal for Minnesota, but there is some youth. There’s also the chance to dump the contracts of both Dieng and Covington. With so many young, low-cost guys on hand, the Wolves would be well-positioned to make trades this summer.
Option 3: Getting cap space to the Timberwolves
Lakers get: Robert Covington (MIN)
Timberwolves get: Avery Bradley (LAL), Brandon Knight (CLE)
Cavaliers get: Gorgui Dieng (MIN), Quinn Cook (LAL), 2023 first-round pick (MIN)
The free-agent market this summer is a relative dud compared with what we saw last year, but the Wolves could still stand to create a significant amount of space and use it to fill some of the holes in the roster. This deal would allow them to do just that.
The Wolves are on the hook for $17 million to Dieng next year and getting out of that deal would be a big win for the team’s new front office. They could cut Knight when the trade is made or give him a look—he is only 28, after all.
The Cavs would have to take on Dieng but if there is a first-rounder involved, they’d be interested.