Winners and losers from massive four-team, 12-player, Clint Capela trade

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NBA Fans wanted fireworks this trade deadline, well here you go:

The largest NBA trade in two decades.

The Rockets, Timberwolves, Hawks, and Nuggets have agreed to a four-team, 12-player trade — the largest NBA trade since the one that sent Patrick Ewing to Seattle in 2000. That was a pre-Twitter trade, one where everyone had to pull out their Nokia 5190 to call their friend to talk about Ewing getting moved (it was next to impossible to text on those things).

Here’s how the 2020 four-team trade ultimately breaks out:

• Houston gets: Robert Covington, Jordan Bell
• Atlanta gets: Clint Capela, Nene
• Denver gets: Gerald Green, Noah Vonleh, Shabazz Napier, Keita Bates-Diop, Houston’s 2020 first-round pick
• Minnesota gets: Malik Beasley, Juancho Hernangómez, Jarred Vanderbilt, Evan Turner, the Nets’ 2020 first-round pick

Who won and who lost? A lot more winners than losers — and a few things still up in the air — out of this trade, but let’s break it all down.

Winner: Atlanta Hawks

Atlanta has been searching for a center since last summer — but not just any center. What they needed was a quality pick-and-roll center to pair with Trae Young.

They land one in Capela. For years the James Harden/Capela pick-and-roll was one of the most-run plays in the NBA because it worked, scoring above a point per possession (well above the league average, this was one of the more effective P&R combos in the league). Houston ultimately went away from it because Harden in isolation turns out to be even more efficient, but Capela is still a strong pick-setting roll man, plus he’s a quality shot-blocker in the paint on the other end. The bottom line, this is a much better fit for Atlanta than bringing in Andre Drummond.

Plus, the Hawks got their man without having to give up John Collins or this their first-round pick this year.

Winner: Robert Covington

Covington just went from being stuck in the NBA’s coldest city on a team that has lost 12 in a row to being in warm-weather Houston playing a key role on a playoff team. That’s a win.

Covington puts up nice raw numbers — 12.8 points and six rebounds a game this season, shooting 34.6 percent from three — but the advanced value stats (such as the different types of adjusted plus/minus numbers) love Covington. When he’s on the floor, teams simply perform better. On both ends of the court. Use whatever coach’s cliche you want — “he does the little things that don’t show up in the box score” or “he just plays winning basketball” — but the Rockets will be better when Covington plays, and that is the definition of an upgrade.

Winner: Fans of small ball… that means you, Mike D’Antoni

Mike D’Antoni may be on his way out in Houston, but if so he’s walking out that door on his own terms — the Rockets have gone all-in on small ball. P.J. Tucker as a 6’5″ center is no longer a gimmick, Houston is going to run with this (and the team is 3-0 in the past couple of weeks with Tucker starting at the five).

On offense, the Rockets have Harden — and sometimes Westbrook — working in isolation and surrounded by shooters. They will remain elite on that end. Defensively, the Rockets will switch everything and be physical, and Long Beach Poly’s own Jordan Bell fits in with that. (Side note to Rockets fans, please don’t bring up the Golden State “death lineup” as a defensive comparison — those teams had peak DPOY Draymond Green at the five making it work, Andre Iguodala and Klay Thompson are quality perimeter defenders, and the last three years they had a strong shot blocker in Kevin Durant on the floor.)

It is going to be entertaining and a fascinating experiment, although Rockets fans may want to run to a local church and light a candle for Tucker’s knees at 35 minutes a night.

Mike D’Antoni gets to be the full Mike D’Antoni. As it should be.

Here’s why I don’t have Houston as a flat-out winner: Small ball is not going to be a successful playoff strategy in the West. I’m not convinced the Rockets get out of the first round with this roster. Maybe they weren’t going to anyway in the Harden/Westbrook era, but the West is loaded with good size — the Lakers are just huge, Denver has Nikola Jokic, Utah has Rudy Gobert, the Clippers can be big and athletic across the front — I’m not sold on Tucker as center working in the postseason. It’s fun in the regular season, I get that Caplela is not as useful as a pick-and-roll partner for the Rockets in a world of Harden isolations, but I don’t think this trade made the Rockets a better playoff team. It just committed them to a style.

Loser: John Collins as a center.

This season, John Collins has split his time evenly between the four and the five, and he’s been a little better as a center offensively. Collins has a 102.9 offensive rating as a center and a 101.6 rating as a power forward this season (stats via Cleaning the Glass). He can hit the three, but 61 percent of his shots come within 10 feet of the basket, and as a center he averaged 23.3 points and 14.1 rebounds per 36 minutes.

Both Capela and Collins are at their best when they set a pick then dive to the rim, but there’s only one spot for that on the roster and Caplela has the job now. Collins must become more of a floor spacer — he’s shooting 35.6 percent from three this season — but that’s not his natural game. With Capela in house, one wonders if the Hawks might look to trade Collins rather than pay him what he’s worth in an extension to his rookie deal (he’s eligible for an extension this summer).

Winner: Rockets’ owner Tillman Fertitta’s pocketbook

This trade means that for the second straight year the Rockets will slip just under the luxury tax line. Of course, Fertitta says he’s willing to pay the tax for a winning team — literally every owner says that — but actions speak louder than words and two straight seasons just under the tax line is not a coincidence.

Winner: Minnesota Timberwolves bench

In general, this trade feels like the first move of many for Gersson Rosas – the man with the hammer in Minnesota — as he works to build a team around Karl-Anthony Towns. If I were grading this trade for the Timberwolves, I would give it an “incomplete” because this feels more like the first step than anything else.

However, picking up Beasley and Hernangomez gives the Timberwolves two solid rotation players that they can re-sign (or not) this summer, giving the team solid bench depth. That’s not a big, sexy move, but it’s the kind of thing smart teams do in rounding our a roster.

Loser: A Karl-Anthony Towns and D'Angelo Russell pairing… for now

The Timberwolves wanted desperately to pair good friends Towns and D’Angelo Russell last summer, and part of the construction of this trade (especially in earlier iterations) was the team lining up picks and assets to send to Golden State to entice the Warriors into this trade.

It was never going to happen at the deadline. Sources have been clear to NBC Sports from the start, Russell was going to spend the entire season as a Warrior (unless a Godfather offer blew the Warriors away). Part of that is what the Warriors have said publicly: They really do want to see what Russell and Stephen Curry look like together on the court (something not happening until Curry’s likely return next month). As the USA Today’s Mark Medina notes in our latest PBT Podcast, if the pairing does work it only ups Russell’s trade value.

The other part of this is the Warriors are up against the hard cap because Russell came in a sign-and-trade. That limits the moves the Warriors can make now. From Golden State’s perspective, if it waits until this summer — when a slow free-agent market has some teams more desperate for answers — then it can find a better, more creative Russell trade that works for them. Or, they can keep him. But there was no pressure to make a move yet.

Expect the Russell to Minneota talk to heat up again next summer.

Winners: NBA Fans

You wanted fireworks, you wanted a big trade — it’s not going to get bigger than a 12-player deal. Enjoy it.