Last Thursday, the Brooklyn Nets and the Philadelphia 76ers made one of the biggest (and most public) trade deals in recent NBA history. The Sixers received James Harden and Paul Millsap, while the Nets received Ben Simmons, Seth Curry and Andre Drummond. The Nets also received a 2022 first-round pick (unprotected) and a 2027 first-round pick (protected); both can be converted into 2 million dollars in cash if the picks do not go through in either season.
While the trade may seem in favor of the Nets at first glance, the truth is, neither team got the short end of the stick. Both Simmons and Harden have had conflicts with their respective teams for over a year, and their actions have brought the trade much deeper scrutiny from outside sources than what NBA commissioner Adam Silver would like.
Last Tuesday, Feb. 15, Silver told Vincent Goodwill of Yahoo Sports that he wished the trade was handled differently. He points out that even though he accepts and understands player empowerment, both Harden and Simmons have made the issues much more public than needed, stating, “I accept that there will always be conversations behind closed doors, when teams are unhappy, or players are unhappy, [but] the last thing you want to see is for these issues to play out publicly. One of the things that I continue to do in my role is to think about ways we can improve the system.”
Still, this trade deal is not just the result of the players leveraging their abilities into forcing a way out of situations: 76ers President Daryl Morey was active and vocal throughout the process. He went so far as to express his terms in an interview with SportsCenter, saying, “Every day, we are expecting Ben Simmons to be back here, or we trade him for a difference maker.” Let us take a look at both sides to see if the trade was worth his efforts.
For the Sixers:
The Sixers traded a lot to get him, but Morey has finally landed Harden, a former NBA MVP and All-Star shooting guard, on his second attempt. His first attempt last season lost to a surprising trade offer from the Nets, but the Morey-Harden relationship extends to when they were both on the Houston Rockets. They were reportedly very close, with Morey building the former team around Harden.
And although Harden is no longer the same player as he was in his prime, he is still a Top 20 player and was selected to the All-Star Team for the tenth time by the coaches around the league. This season, he is averaging 22.5 points, 10.2 assists, 8.0 rebounds per game and a 24.5 efficiency rating, which is still super-star caliber considering that he is starting to move past his prime. Not to mention, the trade allowed the Sixers to move the deadweight salary from Simmons, who has not played a single game for them this season, in exchange for a player who is willing to play. Especially with the MVP caliber performance from Embiid this season, who is averaging 29.6 points, 11.2 rebounds, and 4.5 assists per game, the Sixers have become a true championship contender with the addition of Harden.
However, Morey is also putting a lot on the line in his pursuit of the championship. Harden is known for his lackadaisical defense, and even if they have great defensive players who can pick up his slack, it is never certain how that will play out. Harden is also more suited for a solo type of play, where his shot-creating abilities are put to full use, compared to a more team-friendly style. But the Sixers cannot waste the amazing performance by Embiid this season either, which causes the dilemma over how their styles will mesh together. Lastly, Harden, as part of the deal, will opt into his $47.3 million player option next season, which will put the Sixers at risk of paying big-time for a player who will no longer be worth that price by the end of his contract.
Despite the downsides and potential disasters in the future, the Sixers’ plans seem to be revolving around the now. Now is their best shot at winning the championship, and if they do, the prices they pay in the future will all be worth it. As they say, “prices are temporary, but banners hang forever.”
For the Nets:
The Nets may seem to have gained a lot from this trade, with an All-Star defensive player in Ben Simmons, a deadeye three-point shooter in Seth Curry, and one of the league’s greatest rebounders in Andre Drummond. The two first-round picks from Philadelphia will also help replenish their supply, used to trade Harden from the Rockets last season. However, it is true that the Nets have also lost an offensive presence in Harden, who was a part of the Nets’ “Big Three.” With Durant injured and Irving being a part-time player (due to his vaccination status), the Nets now have a problem on the offensive side. The trade has also possibly taken them out of the running for the title this year, as they have lost a star player in Harden, but they gain a greater possibility of a comeback next year. Thus, the Nets’ motives for the trade seem to be focusing on the long-term outlook, in contrast to the Sixers’ focus on the short-term.
For example, the Nets have traded Harden, who is now 32 years old, for Simmons, who is only 25 years old. And while it is true that Harden offers a lot on the offensive side, the additions of Simmons and Drummond allow the Nets to improve their defense, which was ranked 20th in the league (no team has won the NBA championship title with a ranking worse than 11th). Seth Curry also helps pick up some of the offensive slack from outside the line, with a three-point efficiency of 52 percent.
If Durant can recover from his injuries, if Irving can become a full-time player again, and if the players can have great chemistry with each other, next season, the Nets will become a serious championship contender once again. And unlike the theory of the “Big Three,” these possibilities hold much more promise. In the end though, only time will tell.
In conclusion, both teams should be happy about the trade, and each focused on their own goals (in the short-term for the Sixers, and long-term for the Nets). Both sides are content with what they gained, and it means a lot for player empowerment that Simmons and Harden were able to force a trade through their actions. The only one who is disgruntled by the trade seems to be Adam Silver, but only because of the heavy public scrutiny. Hopefully, this will lead to an era of player empowerment, and everyone can enjoy playing a game that has been around for decades.