Ben Simmons–James Harden Blockbuster Should Make Everyone Happy
2:36 PM EST on February 10, 2022
And now our BenWatch has ended. The saga that began the moment Ben Simmons refused an open layup in a playoff loss to the Hawks has reached its merciful conclusion, with Simmons heading to Brooklyn for a package centered around James Harden, and pretty much everyone involved getting their wish. Simmons will go to a different team, and a legit contender at that; Daryl Morey will get the superstar return he so loudly held out for amid offers for Tyrese Haliburton–level players; James Harden will get to escape a superteam one year after superifying said team; Joel Embiid will get to play alongside someone who can shoot the basketball. Here are the components of the full exchange:
Let us now handle this one participant at a time.
Ben Simmons has not played in a game since June 20, when a heavily favored Sixers team lost to the Hawks, immediately prompting his coach and co-star to trash him in the press. They brought him back for training camp despite the bad blood and looming holdout, and after a brief, remarkable practice, Simmons has not been meaningfully associated with the Sixers since. There will be a serious adjustment process for Simmons to go from not playing basketball for a very long time to getting up to game speed for a struggling Nets team ahead of what is suddenly looking like a tough run through the Eastern Conference. (Brooklyn is currently eighth in the East.) Simmons will join a team replete with people who can worry about the shooting and making of baskets, and Kevin Durant is reportedly pumped up about this, which is both a necessary precursor for such a trade and a fine sign heading into their partnership.
After playing just 16 games alongside both Durant and Kyrie Irving, Harden gets his (recently revealed) wish to escape a superteam of his own making. Harden's desire to leave Brooklyn seemed to bubble up rather suddenly, though there's some sound logic behind it: Durant and Irving were the original pair, and Harden has had to shoulder an outsized load as his two co-stars struggle with injuries and aversion to vaccines, respectively. Philadelphia offers him a chance to handle the ball and run the offense to a reasonable degree while also playing alongside Joel Embiid, a crusher currently in the midst of what might be an MVP season. There are some worries over the fit, mainly centered around Harden's history of merely using big men as lob threats and rim runners, though Embiid is so so so so so so good and he warped his game to accommodate Simmons, the weirdest player in the NBA, for years.
The Brooklyn Nets
The Nets are 24th in the NBA in defensive rebounding percentage. Ben Simmons averages eight rebounds per game. The Nets are 19th in the NBA in defensive rating. Ben Simmons is, at worst, the fifth-best defender in the NBA. The Nets have a lot of guys who shoot the ball well from long distance. Ben Simmons famously hates doing that, but he'll pass them the ball. Kevin Durant can guard the other team's best player, but it diminishes his offensive output. With Ben Simmons in the fold, Durant can focus on committing obscene feats of basketball achievement. Meanwhile, Seth Curry is a fantastic shooter who can fill the Joe Harris void while Harris is out, then supplement the team's juice stores when Harris is back. Andre Drummond has been OK this year, but, crucially, he is very tall and therefore fits a big need for the Nets. Good trade for them!
The Philadelphia 76ers
The Sixers got the best player in this deal, probably, at least right this moment. Harden and Embiid are one of the best pairings of teammates in the entire league, and even though the Sixers had to surrender Seth Curry to acquire Harden, their team can finally move forward without Simmons looming over them, and they can do so with one of the most reliable self-contained offensive engines in the entire league. Also, if they have to match up with the Nets in the playoffs, they have the advantage of Ben Simmons's hesitance to play in front of the bloodthirsty Philly faithful. Nice work guys.
Unfortunately Daryl Morey got what he wanted.
The Other Teams That Did Not Trade For Ben Simmons
Owned! The Kings and Pacers took themselves out of the running with the Haliburton-for-Sabonis swap, the Blazers did so when they flipped C.J. McCollum, and the Celtics and Hawks were clearly hesitant to pull the trigger. Will any of them regret it? I don't think so. None of the non-Nets fits made as much sense, for Simmons or for the teams in question, and the Sixers got just about the best return they could have asked for. I would have liked to have seen Simmons on, like, the Spurs where he could run a team and have freedom to find his ideal role, but now he has a chance at instant redemption with a team that has Kevin Durant on it.
Go wild my friend.