If you're reading a blog post on a Sixers-dedicated site during the NBA playoffs, you are in almost all likelihood a diehard fan. I don't need to Sixersplain his contract. Whether Robert Covington is a toot or a boot is more reflective of what you think his trade value, and his fit on any future roster, is.
The Sixers haven't quite figured out how they identify as an organization through their three year rebuild, if only because it wasn't thought to have mattered until the Sixers knew they employed a superstar-caliber talent. The decision-makers were wrong on that one. Will the organization take advantage of their copious numbers of large men and play bully-ball? Or will they downsize and follow the rest of the NBA?
Bryan Colangelo built four-out teams before they were cool in both Toronto and Phoenix, and with Brett Brown and Mike D'Antoni being well-professed believers in new-age spacing, it's a fair assumption that the Sixers will go in that direction over the course of time. But it will be hard to overhaul the glut of large men taking up roster space and signed to long-term contracts in one offseason, meaning the logjam could take a long time to unclog.
Currently on the roster and under contract next year are Joel Embiid, Nerlens Noel, Jahlil Okafor, Jerami Grant, Carl Landry, and Richaun Holmes. Dario Saric is reportedly sailing over the Atlantic. Bigs such as Ben Simmons and Dragan Bender could be available for the team's first (or second!) draft pick. It will be difficult to draft four wing players.
Covington played a little less than 2/3rds of his minutes at a traditional wing position, so he probably won't be squeezed out of the group I mentioned above. But the third spent at the bigger spot is where Covington made more of a difference. Per position estimates from The Nylon Calculus, Covington's +/- per 48 was about even as a power forward and a -10 as a small forward.
This mirrors most of my mostly-repressed recollections of the Sixers this year - when the team had a point guard and shooting, regardless of the man in the middle of the paint, the offense generally worked. Covington more often had other shooters with him while playing the four defensively, and that leads to more offense. Covington also fared better as a defender against slower, bigger players. He's also a strong rebounder for a wing.
Combined, this all leads you to believe that Covington is better suited to play bigger for longer. On the Sixers, it's hard to find the time for that.
But it's also hard to imagine obtaining a shooter as good as Covington in free agency at a reasonable cost, and finding a good shooter with a late first round pick is always difficult. The Sixers are not going to receive a better shooter in a trade. And the roster should not be a complete product after just one year under a new GM.
On the whole, it's difficult to imagine a potential Robert Covington replacement being more important to the team's eventual success than he would be.
Subjectively, I think Covington is a better shooter than his percentages in two full seasons in Philadelphia show. In the first season, he received his first extended NBA minutes and was maybe the lone bright spot on one of the worst offensive teams in NBA history. The second was such a drag that the team barely made it to ten wins. It is difficult for complementary players to be effective when they don't have a player to be a complement to. He routinely fired away on terrible attempts in meaningless games and still hit on a league average percentage. His amount of off-balance attempts well-beyond the three point line cannot possibly be repeated.
Because of that, and because fit still doesn't quite matter, even if he primarily plays somewhere other than his optimal position, the Sixers should toot* Robert Covington.
*wow, that did not come out right
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