On Saturday, the Sixers, led by owner Josh Harris and general manager Elton Brand, agreed in principle with the Minnesota Timberwolves on a deal that would net them perennial all-star and controversial personality Jimmy Butler. In exchange, the Sixers sent Dario Saric, Jerryd Bayless, a 2022 second round pick, and swingman Robert Covington to the T-Wolves.
Minnesota has agreed to a deal to send Jimmy Butler to Philadelphia for a package that includes Robert Covington and Dario Saric, league sources tell @ZachLowe_NBA and me.— Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) November 10, 2018
Even the most devout Process-truster would have a hard time finding true fault in the trade. With this deal, the Sixers secure their elusive proverbial “third star” in Butler, while sacrificing zero first-round picks, or even Markelle Fultz. Ownership and the front office saw firsthand how difficult it is for a team outside of New York or Los Angeles to bank on signing guys in free agency last summer, as their efforts to bring in LeBron James and/or Paul George were roundly spurned. So when presented with an opportunity to align a fearsome two-way triumvirate of Ben Simmons, Joel Embiid, and Jimmy Butler for a non-prohibitive cost, The Old School Chevy and The Helicopter Escape Artist pulled the trigger. They had to do so.
But that’s not why we’re here.
We’re here to mourn the departure of one Robert Covington, a player and person who truly encapsulated this era in Sixers history as well as anyone. Shall we?
Originally from Bellwood, Illinois, the 6’9” forward played all four years at Tennessee State, where he averaged ~ 15 points and 7 boards per game, while shooting 42% from 3 at the collegiate level. Covington then entered the 2013 draft, only to not hear his name called in either round. He signed a deal in summer league with the Houston Rockets and then-Vice President Sam Hinkie, where he went on to spend the lion’s share of his time in the (formerly named) D-league for the Rio Grande Valley Vipers. There, he became a D-league All-Star and was named Rookie of the Year. In October of 2014, the Rockets waived Cov, clearing the path for him to reunite with Sixers GM Sam Hinkie in November of 2014.
Over his first two years with the Sixers, Covington started exactly 49 games in each season, which would result in a combined win total of 28.
The 2016-2017 season was where Covington truly emerged, starting all 67 of his games played as the Sixers began to integrate their rookie star, Joel Embiid. During the season, his outside shooting was streaky but dynamite when he was on, and the true wrinkle that had steadily developed was his defense. The forward averaged 2 steals and a block, but with the Sixers still struggling on the whole (finishing the season 28-54), Covington’s virtues continued to go unnoticed on the national scale.
Last year, for the Sixers as a team, and for Robert, himself, league-wide perception shifted in a major way. Bolstered by a virtuoso rookie season by Ben Simmons, the addition of marksman JJ Redick, and 63 healthy games of Joel Embiid, the Sixers won 52 games and rose to the third seed in the NBA’s Eastern Conference. Robert Covington was there all along, shooting 37% from 3 and showcasing his talents and hard work as one of the best on and off-ball defenders the league had to offer. The rewards Covington reaped for his hard work and dedication were twofold: first, in November, he inked a four-year, $62 million extension/restructure with the team. Second, at season’s end, Covington was named to the NBA’s first team on the All-Defensive Team, alongside the likes of Rudy Gobert and Anthony Davis. Covington was and is a true testament to sticktoitiveness and dedication down a winding and bumpy road toward what you want to achieve.
Today, Robert Covington is no longer a 76er. He’s in Minnesota flanked by Dario and Bayless, and he has a new jacket.
As Sixers fans, some cognitive dissonance is required in saying goodbye to #33. We can at once acknowledge that this trade, or one like it, was necessary and unavoidable for this team to take the next step, whilst also not quite wanting to bid adieu to Robert, Dario, or a host of other Process-era players we came to adore.
To the nonsensical few among Sixers fans who derided Covington as merely a rotation guy and nothing more when he would go into occasional shooting slumps: he was just the key cog in a trade to land a dominant, undeniable star player. Eat crow. You were wrong, it’s okay.
We gained something huge in this trade: a star player who could very conceivably make the Sixers legitimate championship contenders. But what we lost was not insignificant. With Robert, we lose another tether to the past, to a simpler time. A time when we found silver linings in 20-game losing streaks and moral victories in losses by only 10 to the Warriors. We lost another tie to Sam Hinkie.
Robert Covington was one of us. When Deadspin or Hoopscritic or Marcus Hayes slung arrows our way, they fired at him, too. Yet he, and we, persisted. And here we are.
So thank you, Cov, for being one of us.