After all the drama, it’s official. Two stars have finally swapped teams before the trade deadline. Ben Simmons, Seth Curry and Andre Drummond were shipped to the Brooklyn Nets along with first round picks for 2022 and 2077. In return, the Philadelphia 76ers received James Harden and Paul Millsap.
The Simmons saga is finally over in Philadelphia. After spending the entire season holding out and eating fines for missing games, the Australian point guard finally got his wish to get the hell out of the City of Brotherly Love. You’ve almost got to give it to Simmons, who put his money where his mouth is by being steadfast while losing more money than most of us will ever make in a lifetime.
James Harden also got what he wanted in finally getting the hell out of a sticky situation in Brooklyn that involved a part-time player in teammate Kyrie Irving, which among other things apparently irked him enough to force a second blockbuster trade in consecutive years. The trade brings an abrupt end to the Harden-Durant-Irving era, which lasted for just over a year and saw them actually only take to the court as a trio 16 times, where they amassed a 13-3 record.
The exchange doesn’t have a clear loser, but both teams took big gambles in pulling the trigger. Daryl Morey wanted to get the player who made him famous back one way or another, and he managed to get Harden in a year where the Sixers are serious contenders for the title. Joel Embiid is playing out of his mind this season, so pairing him with an elite ball handler and distributor who’s not afraid of taking big shots was paramount.
Embiid has a long injury history and none of us have any idea how long his body can hold out, even though he’s shown that he’s willing to play through pain to try to win. If there was ever a time to do make this move, it was now. You don’t want to waste another season where your star center is showing that he’s capable of scoring 50 points in a game.
The Nets, on the other hand, decided that gambling on Harden’s happiness wasn’t worth it. Deep down, Sean Marks knew that the madhouse in Brooklyn was not going to convince Harden to stay. The Irving situation, along with all of the injury problems that have plagued the roster this season, would be enough to make a lot of players leave, even if that meant giving up a chance to play with Kevin Durant. The Nets risked losing Harden for nothing in the offseason, thanks to his player option on his contract, and that was too big a risk to take considering what they gave up to get him in the first place.
Both players now have something to prove. Simmons, who has a huge contract and is one of the NBA’s best defenders and distributors, now has a chance to prove his naysayers wrong. Everyone’s been on his ass about giving up on the team after getting his feelings hurt after last year’s playoffs, and now he is in a team surrounded by superstars, shooters, and savvy veterans. He’ll never have to worry about taking the last shot in a team that has gunners like Irving, Durant, Patty Mills and Cam Thomas, among others. If his game doesn’t fit with this team, then it proves that he was the problem all along. Defense does win championships, and that’s a skill that Simmons holds in spades.
Harden has officially branded himself a mercenary with this move, so it’s championship or bust for him as well. While he didn’t do anything as drastic, the end of his tenure with the Rockets wasn’t particularly great last season, either. Sure, he at least played in some games before getting traded, but it was widely known that he wanted to force his way out. By doing the same thing in consecutive years, Harden has shown that being in the best situation to win a title is what matters most to him. He’s now got to produce the goods and show that he can fit into a team built around a superstar big man.
There are still so many unanswered questions after the trade, and NBA fans will have a blast watching things unfold over the rest of this season.
In Brooklyn, Irving has now been paired with another mercurial superstar in Simmons. I still wonder if the chemistry could potentially implode due to Irving’s aloof nature and Simmons’ stubbornness. Durant now has a monumental task ahead of him in being the team leader and keeping the peace, but at the end of the day winning changes everything. The Nets are still in a rough spot, too, since Durant is still out for some time and they’ve fallen from first in the Eastern Conference to a play-in spot at eighth thanks to a nine-game losing streak.
As much as I dislike how Simmons handled the situation in Philadelphia, I think his defense will be his strongest contribution to the Nets. However, his apparent fear of taking shots could still piss off his new teammates, so we’ll have to see how Steve Nash fits him into their offense. Since he doesn’t pose an outside threat, opposing teams could go back to doubling Irving or Durant when only one of them is on the court with Simmons.
Joel Embiid will be rejoicing in Philadelphia now that he’s got an offensive wizard to play with. This is also the first time that Harden will ever have gotten to play with a multi-talented big man like Joel Embiid. He’s played most of career with more traditional big men, like Kendrick Perkins and Clint Capela, so figuring out the best way to play with Embiid will take a little while. The two of them will have at least this season and next to figure it out, thanks to Harden opting into next season’s contract.
Harden, to his credit, has shown to be very happy to work within a system instead of having it centered around him, like he did when he took over point guard duties full time for the Nets to allow Irving to focus on scoring the ball.
I don’t actually know who I’d pick in a seven-game series between the two teams now. The East is unbelievably competitive this season, though, so that’s not a guarantee. The Sixers will definitely miss Seth Curry’s shooting and Andre Drummond’s strong production in the paint, but if Harden and Embiid figure it out, they may be too dangerous to stop. They managed to hold onto other key players like Matisse Thybulle and Tyrese Maxey, plus since Simmons wasn’t playing anyway, they’re effectively replacing Curry with Harden in this season’s rotation.
All I know is that March 11 (Manila time) is going to be a day to mark on the calendar. That’s when the Nets and Sixers will meet for the fourth and final time this season. I hope everyone is healthy, because it’s an away game for the Nets, so even Irving can play. That means we could see these two lineups go to battle: