It’s finally happened.
The Ben Simmons saga with the Philadelphia 76ers is ending, months after a major falling out between him and the organization following post-Game 7 comments after they lost to the Atlanta Hawks in the 2021 Eastern Conference semifinals.
The Brooklyn Nets are trading James Harden and Paul Millsap to the Sixers in exchange for Simmons, Seth Curry, Andre Drummond and two first-round picks
I predicted a James Harden for Ben Simmons trade a year ago when Harden wanted out of Houston. I was correct about the headline, but it took longer than expected and an extra stop in Brooklyn.
This is the big domino we’ve been waiting to see fall. And it happens thanks to another domino that popped up over the last month, as it became clearer and clearer that Harden was feeling frustrated with the situation in Brooklyn.
Harden has missed Brooklyn’s last three games due to left hamstring tightness, or as I like to call it “Get me the fuck out of here” syndrome. In 44 games this season, the three-time scoring champion is averaging 22.5 points, 10.2 assists and eight rebounds per game. Expect those numbers to increase as he runs alongside Joel Embiid, current MVP favorite.
Simmons hasn’t played for Philadelphia this season. He requested a trade in the offseason and then informed the team in October that he was not mentally ready to play again for the franchise and needed time to work on himself. Or in other words, he suffered from the James Harden syndrome of “Get me the fuck out of here.”
But in all seriousness both parties won this trade, so let me break things down.
*Leans in real close* The Nets were title favorites before and after this trade.
This isn’t what Sean Marks envisioned when he acquired Harden, but the fallout isn’t a negative one either.
First, we should try to re-establish that Simmons is a hell of a player. Yes, he has some major flaws when it comes to the scoring aspect of the game, disappears in big moments and doesn’t have the same aggressiveness going to the basket entering the fourth quarter. There seems to be an aversion to getting fouled, so he doesn’t embarrass himself at the free-throw line with his poor shooting.
Those are problems, and we’ve seen them pop up at the most critical of times in the most hilarious fashion. We also should remember Simmons is a freight train driving to the basket and especially in transition when he takes the ball aggressively. He’s one of the best defensive players in the game, and we’ve seen what that absence does to a Sixers defense that was brilliant last season. The Nets have been slipping defensively for quite some time, and Simmons is a player who can help tie a lot of those things together.
Simmons also won’t be asked to shoot nearly as much, and there is zero expectation of him playing hero. They have Durant for that, and they have Irving for that.
Simmons will be asked to play more of a big-man role around the hoop, or maybe even be more of a Draymond Green type of weapon for Steve Nash’s attack when he’s on the court with Durant and Irving. They need to get Durant back from this knee injury, but Simmons isn’t a short-term option, as he’s under contract through 2025. Simmons will need to get into shape and make sure he’s mentally prepared for a return to the court. Simmons will be heckled … a lot when he goes on the road, and maybe even at home depending on which team is visiting. Those are things the Nets and Simmons have to prepare for.
Simmons is there to fix the defense and redefine what his game is on offense.
Simmons gives the Nets defense and playmaking to a team that can use an excess of both. His career 8.1 rebounds per game will also be a welcome sight for a Brooklyn team that tends to lose when its outrebounded. He also gets the Nets younger and cheaper as the trade saves the Nets a total of $15 million in the luxury tax and $18 million total between salary and tax.
Of course the Nets season hinges on the health of Kevin Durant. No KD means a first round exit, simple as that.
But a healthy KD with a dare I say vaccinated Kyrie Irving, or a mandate lifted Irving, and an implemented Ben Simmons, the Nets are in competition with one team for the championship and that is the Milwaukee Bucks. That is it.
Harden and Daryl Morey are back together again after spending years in Houston together winning games, trying to take down contenders and finding MVP votes for the superstar guard. When Harden wanted out of Houston a little over a year ago, there were thoughts that the Rockets were going to refuse to move Harden to Philadelphia, even for a dynamic yet flawed player like Simmons. Harden’s goal was to get to Philly or Brooklyn and team up with Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving. Then, due to injuries, health and safety protocols and a New York City vaccine mandate, things never came together over the next year-plus.
Harden reportedly grew increasingly frustrated with the situation in Brooklyn, and it didn’t look like the greener pastures he was looking for in an exit from Houston. A month ago, this didn’t seem like even a possibility. We just assumed the Nets were going to eventually get Durant and Harden on the same page, and it would lead to them marching toward title contention, even if Irving was only allowed to play road games.’
Instead, Durant hurt his knee, and the warts of this entire experience grew too big for Harden to feel comfortable there anymore.
The Sixers jumped at the possibility to pair him with Embiid.
For the 76ers the trade was a no brainier. They turned a vacant roster spot in Ben Simmons into James Harden, one of the most prolific scorers the game has ever seen. To turn a non player into that clamber of player is A tier front office work.
The pairing of Harden as Embiid’s “Robin” will break teams down possession by possession, inside and out. It also signals the best player Embiid has ever played with and it is not close.
But with all due respect to the one season of Jimmy Butler, Harden is the most talented perimeter creator that Embiid has ever played with. Harden figured out how to play with Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving but the Nets couldn’t get all three players on the court at the same time. Now, it’s up to him and Embiid to figure it out.
Losing Curry hurts because he’s a lethal shooter and an underrated playmaker. But Harden as the lead guard is an upgrade. It also didn’t cost the Sixers Tyrese Maxey, and they can play both of them together.
The offensive fire power of that duo plus Tyrese Maxey, Tobias Harris and shooting from Danny Green, the 76ers will score with the best of them. Defensively Embiid protects the paint while Matisse Thybulle locks down the perimeter like no other.
Capitalizing on the prime of Embiid was essential, especially when you consider his injury history. The 76ers could not let Simmons rot in the practice facility while Embiid gives you his best years.
At the end of the day both teams can walk away happy. The 76ers got their guy while the Nets add depth to a superstar heavy roster. If you want to declare a winner, it will have to wait until after the playoffs as it will high heavily on how the teams fair then.
Either team can make a championship run but remember this: the quest for a title runs through Milwaukee and that bad man Giannis Antetokounmpo.