The rumors can now rest. But what’s next?
Well, Brooklyn Nets fans, you can breathe.
The circus is finally over.
After a seemingly never-ending week of report after report, the Nets and Sixers finally agreed to the trade.
A little more than one year after acquiring him, the Nets have shipped out an unhappy James Harden. And he’s going where he “wants” to be: Philadelphia.
Just like he “wanted” to be in Brooklyn instead of Houston, but we digress…
The Nets brought back Philly’s disgruntled superstar, Ben Simmons, with Seth Curry, Andre Drummond and two future first-round picks.
On its surface, this is a good day for Nets fans. Trading away a guy that clearly did not want to be a part of the team anymore for another superstar-caliber player and role players that fill some of Brooklyn’s needs.
On the flip side though there has to be some sort of melancholy feel as well. The Nets had to trade away a superstar player midway through the season.
How we got here
The old saying “where there’s smoke there is fire” couldn’t be truer than this whole Harden debacle. Since December there had been rumblings of the Sixers pursuing Harden whether via trade or in the offseason. Daryl Morey struck out trying to obtain Harden last season and seemed hell-bent on continuing his pursuit of the former face of the Rockets franchise.
The Nets reversed course on their initial stance and brought Kyrie Irving back on a part-time basis thus reigniting the dream of the Big 3 playing together. After a truly dominating performance against the Bulls, the Nets seemed to be trending up. However, the dream of Brooklyn’s Big 3 finally playing together was dealt a blow when Kevin Durant suffered a knee injury a few games after Irving’s return.
After that, the Nets began a freefall, and apparently so too did Harden’s interest in being a Brooklyn Net. Reports then started flying every other day it seemed.
First, the Nets weren’t interested in a trade.
Then the Nets are “open to talking”.
And, eventually, the floodgates opened. There were reports that claimed Harden was fed up with the Nets for multiple reasons including the lack of spacing, not enough input from him in terms of roster construction, inconsistent lineups, and of course the part-time nature of Kyrie.
To Harden’s credit, some of these are valid reasons for frustration. The Nets opted to go for more defensive-oriented players this offseason, swapping out the bevy of perimeter shooting that graced the roster last year.
Steve Nash’s lineups have come under fire all year which comes as a shock to no one. And obviously, it has to be frustrating when someone you signed up to play with is only there on a part-time basis.
Frustration or not it’s up to Harden, who’s being paid a superstar’s salary to persevere through some adversity. Especially considering his teammate, Kevin Durant, was carrying not only him but this roster for the first three months of the season.
Not without Blame
The biggest indictment on Harden was his performance in a losing effort against the Kings on February 3. A game in which Harden had more turnovers (6) than points (4) and could be seen on numerous occasions giving little to no effort on the defensive end. Following that game, Harden would miss the next few with hamstring tightness but the writing was on the wall.
Harden effort thread because I watched the film back and, my god, it's pathetic.
Clip 1: just blatantly not caring. pic.twitter.com/NbCccj2Ntt
— Erik Slater (@erikslaterNR) February 3, 2022
What Harden did to force his way out of Brooklyn is embarrassing and weak, to say the least. On the morning of the trade deadline, ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reported that Harden wanted a trade but was hesitant to request one for fear of backlash.
"I'm told that James Harden wants a trade to the 76ers. He wants it to happen today prior to the trade deadline. But he has resisted formally requesting that trade with the Nets organization."
— Get Up (@GetUpESPN) February 10, 2022
Well, not too sure how one could avoid backlash with the way Harden has handled this entire situation. Paul Millsap at least had the decency to approach the Nets front office and formally request a trade. But also, what does this say now about James Harden? This will be the second time in two years he has forced his way off a team for a seemingly better situation.
Analyzing this trade from the Nets side this is almost a dream return for Harden and Millsap. Starting first with Ben Simmons. Now to clarify Ben Simmons isn’t this golden angel child the Nets are receiving. His situation in Philadelphia has been well documented and he isn’t without some sort of blame in compounding his situation either.
The prevailing narrative around Simmons is that he is an all-world athlete and an elite defender whose only problem is that he can’t shoot.
The pairing of him and Joel Embiid, although semi-successful was seen as clunky, with Embiid a monster figure in the halfcourt whereas Simmons thrived in transition and with a faster pace of play.
Now in Brooklyn, Simmons is surrounded by a plethora of shooting. Between Patty Mills, Seth Curry, Kyrie Irving and eventually Joe Harris, each game has the possibility to break out into a three-point contest.
The pressures of late-game situations won’t be as large for Simmons either as he’ll have two all-time great scorers to defer to in crunch time. Not to mention one, possibly two elite-level shooters on the floor as well depending on the lineup.
Defensively the Nets also get a great boost with Simmons. A two-time All-Defense player, Simmons is adept at guarding both guards and wings and can even hold his own against a few centers. Coupled with Durant, Nicolas Claxton, Kessler Edwards and Bruce Brown, the Nets now have a solid group of perimeter and wing defenders.
Steve Nash will have options upon options when it comes to utilizing Ben and his talents. The multitude of different lineups Simmons can be used should have fans salivating and opposing teams shaking in their boots. Imagine a death lineup of Simmons-Irving-Durant-Harris-Curry.
Moving on to the other pieces in the trade let’s focus on Seth Curry. As mentioned before the Nets are acquiring one of the elite three-point shooters in the game. Seth is currently shooting an even 40 percent from beyond the arc on just over five attempts per game. On the year Curry is averaging 15.0 points and 4.0 assists per game. According to Cleaningtheglass.com Curry ranks in the 97th percentile in PSA (Points per Shot Attempt) at 122.9.
What Seth provides the Nets goes well beyond three-point shooting. Brooklyn has desperately needed another ballhandler and someone who can handle point guard duties off the bench. Although not your prototypical point guard, Curry has experience throughout his career assuming this role. It shouldn’t be too hard though when you’ll have the likes of Ben Simmons, Kevin Durant, and Kyrie Irving to defer to.
And last but not least is Andre Drummond. Although some have their reservations about him there is one that is for certain and that is that he is a presence in the paint. The Nets know all too well about Drummond’s paint dominance over the last few years.
On the year Drummond is averaging 6.1 points and 8.8 rebounds per game in just over 18 minutes off the bench. Per Cleaningtheglass Drummond ranks in the 99th percentile in defensive rebounding percentage and 96th percentile in offensive rebounding. One of Brooklyn’s biggest concerns the past two years is how they match up size-wise against some of the elite bigs in the east such as Giannis and Embiid. Well, now the Nets have another body to throw at those guys along with LaMarcus Aldridge, Blake Griffin, and Nicolas Claxton.
Harden in Philly
Now in Philadelphia, Harden will be paired with Joel Embiid who is having an MVP-level season. He is also going to a more half-court-centric offense which suits his style of play more.
The question, however, is: if the rumors and reports are true that Harden was frustrated with the roster construction and lack of spacing in Brooklyn, how is he going to fare in Philadelphia?
The Sixers had to give up their best deep ball shooter in Curry as part of the trade. Who’s is going to spot up in the corner and just wait for the eventual pass for the catch and shoot?
As part of the deal, Harden reportedly picked up his player option ($47.3M) for next season which means he is bought in there for at least another year.
The Sixers will need to do some serious cap gymnastics in order to field a championship-level team with Harden, Embiid, and Tobias Harris eating up a huge chunk of their cap space. However, that’s something Morey will have to figure out down the road. For now, he got his guy and that’s all that matters.
“Scary Hours” no more
When it’s all said and done the Big 3 “Scary Hours” will have only played together in only 16 games going 13-3 over that span. This will go down as one of if not the biggest “what-ifs” in the history of sports.
To think one playoff series could’ve been the reason for all this. Who knows what happens if Harden doesn’t injure his hamstring, or Giannis doesn’t slide under Kyrie or KD wore a smaller shoe size?
One thing that can be certain is the Nets have Durant and Simmons locked up for the next few years and are a Kyrie extension away from possibly forming another dominant trio.