Philadelphia 76ers: Robert Covington has undeniable trade appeal

Robert Covington | Philadelphia 76ers (Photo by David Berding/Getty Images)
Robert Covington | Philadelphia 76ers (Photo by David Berding/Getty Images) /

The Philadelphia 76ers are on the shortlist of contenders in the Robert Covington sweepstakes.

Equal parts folk hero and scapegoat during his Philadelphia 76ers tenure, Robert Covington was a central piece in the Jimmy Butler trade last season. Now the Sixers may look to undo his departure and bring the defensive maestro back into the fold.

According to The Athletic’s Shams Charania, the Sixers are one of three teams in hot pursuit of Covington. While Minnesota is expected to drive a hard bargain, the Sixers are lucky to a degree. The other teams on Charania’s shortlist — Houston and Dallas — aren’t particularly loaded with trade fodder.

The Sixers, however, are especially scarce when it comes to adequate value in a trade of this magnitude. In order to make salaries work, it would require — at minimum — Mike Scott, Zhaire Smith, and a veteran minimum contract. To make a competitive offer, Philadelphia might need to throw in a first-round pick.

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Covington is a great player, and he was far too underrated during his first stretch in Philadelphia. His shortcomings are glaring, sure, but he’s one of the 10 best defenders in basketball and a legitimate Defensive Player of the Year candidate at his peak.

Deploying Covington as the sixth man is a massive talent upgrade for Philadelphia. Given the financial framework of such a trade, odds are only one key rotation member — Scott — would depart in a hypothetical trade. The Sixers would improve without a significant loss of depth, at least not in the short term.

While Covington doesn’t give the Sixers their ball-handling fix, he does add another layer to the largest, most defensively formidable rotation in basketball. He can close games over Al Horford, and his work in the passing lanes will only increase Philadelphia’s ability to force turnovers and play in transition.

It’s not as though a Covington trade ignores the Sixers’ core problems either. He is a quick-trigger shooter, and one who commands more respect than Scott on pedigree alone. He will probably challenge Horford for a good quantity of minutes, and it’s not hard to picture Covington opening a much cleaner lane for Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons to work with.

Covington is a genuinely elite defender. Adding him to the mix with Embiid, Simmons, Horford, and Josh Richardson — as a sixth man, no less — is a tantalizing proposition. There are questions aplenty about Philadelphia’s offense, but there’s something to be said for a suffocating defense in the postseason.

The Sixers would also lead the league in deflections. Not an essential stat, but Covington, Simmons, and Matisse Thybulle would create beautiful chaos. Teams would find fewer clean passing lanes than normal.

Obviously, there is a limit to what Philadelphia should spend on a bench upgrade, and Covington would not solve the clear need for increased ball-handling. If better options aren’t available, however, you sometimes take the gamble on raw talent. A prime version of Covington is a top-50 player. He also operates on the same plane as Embiid and Simmons defensively — not a light statement.

Next. Horford's contract is becoming untradeable. dark

If nothing else, Covington comes with more than enough nostalgia to soothe (most) fans.