PHILADELPHIA – To describe his mercurial relationship with the city of Philadelphia, Timberwolves forward Robert Covington borrowed a line from a song about another famous town, “New York, New York.”
“If you can make it here, you can make it anywhere,” Covington said before Tuesday’s game against his old team, the 76ers.
Even though Jimmy Butler facing his former team for the first time was the headline-grabbing matchup, Tuesday was still a homecoming for Covington, Dario Saric and Jerryd Bayless, who came over from Philadelphia in the Butler trade.
Covington wasn’t able to play because of the right knee bone bruise that has kept him sidelined recently, and added there was no timetable for his return. He said it would be “emotional” not being able to take the floor.
“I received a lot of love here and, like I said, I’m just thankful for the memories that I had here,” Covington said.
Even if the fans booed him at times. Covington smiled as he recalled a game against the Wolves from Jan. 3, 2017, when Covington hit the game-winning shot off an inbound pass.
At the beginning of the game, he said, the notoriously tough crowd was booing him.
“I remember everything about that night. The first shot I had they started to boo,” Covington said. “I was going through the rough stretch so my very first shot of that game there were multiple boos and I heard it throughout the crowd and throughout the game. Just played through it.”
The boos were gone when the night ended.
“You see how quick Philly can turn around,” he said.
Saric said he felt a mix of emotions in his return. Specifically, Saric said it was weird coming through a different entrance for shootaround than he was accustomed to with the 76ers.
“It was weird to see how the arena looks from that side,” Saric said. “I didn’t feel like something special or something amazing. Just a different atmosphere than other gyms and other arenas. When I see the court, a little bit I remember some things. There were some memorable moments.”
Saric, who’s from Croatia, referred to Philadelphia as his “first American home” and appreciated how the fans responded to his style of play.
“I tried to play tough and tried to give 100 percent in every moment and tried to be what Philly is,” Saric said. “Now I’m doing the same thing with the Timberwolves. I’m trying to play hard there and play 100 percent and because of that I feel like I have a good relationship with the fans.”
Other side of the trade
The Wolves didn’t just give up Butler in the trade, they also gave up 2017 first-round pick Justin Patton. Patton is with the 76ers as he recovers from right foot surgery in September, a little more than a year after Patton had left foot surgery. Patton didn’t mince words when asked how he felt to be traded.
“It’s been a breath of fresh air,” Patton said. “It was honestly, like, just having a change of scenery is great. Coming from that organization and the state it was in when I left, it was good to come to an organization like this where everything is transparent and everybody actually, genuinely cares about their job and comes in to work.”
Patton could return from his injury in February.