The NBA trade deadline is tomorrow. If nobody manages to pry holdout Ben Simmons loose from the Philadelphia 76ers by 3:00 p.m. Thursday, then he will be stuck with them for the rest of the season. This has been the unchanged state of things since August, if not since some point in the winter of 2020, and in that sense is not news.
However! It seems the Brooklyn Nets may be close to accomplishing a Simmons trade as I write this blog, for they, and the 76ers, have entered the Deal Zone. The Nets have entered the Deal Zone with James Harden, and the 76ers have entered the Deal Zone with Ben Simmons. Whomst shall emerge? And with whomst shall they emerge, wearing whichst uniforms?
“The issue is, can they settle the issues by three o’clock tomorrow. Because from what I am told, Brooklyn’s ask is still Ben Simmons and two or three other pieces—draft picks and players on the Sixers roster. The Sixers don’t wanna do that. But we are in right now, as far as I can tell Greeny, we’re in the Deal Zone, between Harden and Simmons. I suspect they’re gonna get it done, I’m not gonna tell you for sure they’re gonna get it done, but, it’s trending in that direction.”ESPN
That’s ESPN’s Brian Windhorst, to Mike Greenberg (he’s “Greeny”), this morning on, uh, ESPN, proclaiming the Deal Zone situation. The Deal Zone situation is that the Nets and Sixers are closing in on a trade that would send Ben Simmons to Brooklyn in exchange for James Harden, with the respective teams sending this or that other stuff to make it seem fair or to satisfy various salary cap math requirements. This is what they must work out inside of the Deal Zone.
The Nets, funnily enough since they’re the one of these teams whose guy has actually been playing in basketball games this season, are probably under the greater pressure to get a trade completed before the deadline. Harden can be an unrestricted free agent after this season, raising the possibility that the Sixers could simply wait until the summer and sign him in free agency without having to send anything Brooklyn’s way; from the Sixers’ perspective, they already don’t have either Simmons or Harden, so nothing much changes if they simply sit still and keep the players and draft picks the Nets would prefer they use to purchase Harden. The only pressure on Philly comes from the possibility that adding James Harden midway through the best season (so far) of Joel Embiid’s career might give their city its best shot at an NBA championship since the first half of the 1980s.
What complicates this is that, measured straight up against each other, Harden is like a billion times better than Ben Simmons; even if Simmons hadn’t sat out every game of the season so far, swapping him for Harden would represent a profound raising of the 76ers’ ceiling. On top of that, Simmons is due something like $112 million in salary over the next three seasons, and isn’t willing to shoot jump shots, nor indeed to pound down simple two-handed slam dunks in particularly high-leverage moments, and has killed his very good team in multiple postseasons due to said unwillingness, and so you can imagine the Nets balking at the idea of just swapping one of the great scorers in the history of basketball for this dude. On top of that, the Nets are still dealing with Kyrie Irving having to miss home games because of his refusal to get vaccinated, and Kevin Durant’s health and ability to avoid injury continue to be in doubt, which adds all the more possible risk to the idea of trading away a steady supplier of buckets, declining though he might be, in exchange for yet another neurotic oddball with a weird part-time relationship to the sport of professional basketball.
But enough of that shit! The trade may already have happened while I was writing this blog. We’re in the frickin’ Deal Zone, here!