The Portland Trail Blazers have been a fringe contender in the Western Conference for nearly a decade. Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum make up one of the best backcourts in the NBA, but they haven’t been surrounded with enough talent to compete for a title.
As Lillard enters his 30s, Portland is running out of time to build a championship roster. The Trail Blazers just made a strong push toward that goal by trading for Robert Covington.
The Trail Blazers are a close-but-no-cigar contender
The Trail Blazers don’t normally dominate the headlines in the Western Conference, but they’ve been one of the most consistent performers since the late 2000s.
Portland has made the playoffs in 10 of the last 12 seasons. With Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum on the roster, the Blazers have been to the postseason in seven consecutive years. And they’ve made plenty of noise during that span.
The Trail Blazers have made it to the Western Conference Semifinals three times in the last seven seasons, and they even made the Conference Finals in 2019. Lillard and McCollum were the biggest reasons for that, but they need more help around them to take the next step.
The Trail Blazers trade for Robert Covington
It didn’t take long for the Blazers to strike when the NBA trade window for the 2020-21 season opened on Monday. Within hours, Portland agreed to a deal with the Houston Rockets to land defensive stopper Robert Covington.
The Trail Blazers will send the Rockets Trevor Ariza and two first-round picks for the veteran wing.
Covington, who’s only making $46.8 million from his current four-year contract, has been a valuable and vastly underrated contributor for three different teams during his NBA career. He broke out in 2014-15 with the Philadelphia 76ers, scoring a career-high 13.5 points per game while shooting 37.4% from three in his second NBA season.
Two years ago, Covington was traded to the Minnesota Timberwolves, and he gave the NBA a glimpse at how effective he can be as an everyday starter. Covington poured in 14.5 points and swiped 2.3 steals per game while playing a career-high 34.7 minutes per game with the Timberwolves in 2019.
But what Covington really brings to the Blazers is a lockdown perimeter defender who can change games with his defense. Covington has been in the top 10 in the NBA in steals per game in each of the last four seasons, and he isn’t afraid to guard the opponent’s best player.
Portland finally gave Damian Lillard the $46 million help he needed
Over the last few seasons, the Blazers have surrounded Lillard and McCullom with wings such as Trevor Ariza, Maurice Harkless, Jake Layman, and Al-Farouq Aminu. Not to knock any of those players, but that isn’t going to move the needle in a league with so many talented small forwards.
Covington is an upgrade from all of Portland’s starting SFs since Lillard and McCollum took over the team, especially on the defensive end. Over the last three seasons, the Trail Blazers are 28th in the NBA in points allowed per game.
Lillard and McCollum are exceptional offensive playmakers, but they needed another wing to help them get stops on the defensive end. They finally found that player in Covington.
All stats courtesy of Basketball Reference