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James Harden, Ben Simmons trade: 4 winners and losers on deadline day

Vincent Frank

NBA blockbuster trades are apparently a thing. All-Stars James Harden and Ben Simmons found this out first-hand during NBA trade deadline day on Thursday.

The Brooklyn Nets sent Harden to the Philadelphia 76ers for Simmons, Seth Curry, Andre Drummond and two future first-round picks in one of the biggest in-season deals in recent Association history.

This trade promises to shake up the foundation of the NBA championship race. That’s already happening with Philadelphia going from +1300 to +700 to win the title, according to Caesars Sportsbook.

There’s certainly going to be a lot of talk about this blockbuster over the next several weeks and months. James Harden was apparently unhappy in Brooklyn and wanted out of dodge. Meanwhile, Ben Simmons has not suited up all season due to a rift with the 76ers’ organization. Below, we look at four winners and losers from this epic four-player trade.

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Winner: Joel Embiid gets true running partner in James Harden

james harden trade, joel embiid
Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

It’s not a secret that Embiid and Simmons had their issues with one another. It’s one of the reasons the latter requested a trade from Philadelphia following his ugly performance in the Eastern Conference Semifinals against the Atlanta Hawks last season. As for Embiid, he’s talked openly about the relationship.

“Honestly, I’m disappointed. In the regular season, we’ve been so good and so dominant that we know it’s working. It’s about taking the next step and everyone playing up to their potential. To (be) able to win is hard.”

Joel Embiid on Ben Simmons (Sept 27, 2021)

This came with Simmons remaining away from Philadelphia during training camp and the preseason as a way to force his way out of Philadelphia. More than this drama as a backdrop, Embiid also gets a much better running partner moving forward after putting up an MVP-caliber season thus far.

  • James Harden stats (2021-22): 22.5 PPG, 8.0 RPG, 10.2 APG, 41% shooting, 33% three-point
  • Ben Simmons stats (2020-21): 14.3 PPG, 7.2 RPG, 6.9 APG, 56% shooting

As you can see, Harden is a more capable scorer than his counterpart. Sure he’s struggled more this season than in the past. But a change of scenery should light a fire under the former NBA MVP. That’s for sure. He seems happy about ridding himself of Simmons, too.

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Loser: Era of NBA super-teams

NBA: Miami Heat at Brooklyn Nets
Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

When Brooklyn acquired Harden early during the 2020-21 season, the idea was to build another super-team. Three future Hall of Famers in James Harden, Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving teaming up together while they were still in their prime.

It was a disaster of epic proportions in the Big Apple. From Irving’s standoffish ways and vaccination stance to Durant’s continued injuries and Harden’s questionable play, this thing came crashing down like an avalanche in Switzerland. And no, adding a limited Simmons to the mix with Irving and Durant does not make the Nets a super-team.

In reality, the last iteration of a so-called super-team around the NBA was the Durant-led Warriors that won two consecutive NBA titles in in 2017 and 2018. The Lakers attempted to build that by acquiring Russell Westbrook to team up with LeBron James and Anthony Davis ahead of the 2021-22 season. That, too, has proven to be an epic failure.

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Winner: Kevin Durant gets a better fit in Ben Simmons

ben simmons, james harden trade
Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

This is an underrated backdrop to the blockbuster James Harden for Ben Simmons swap. When healthy, the Nets don’t have an issue scoring. They are averaging nearly 111 points a game despite KD being sidelined. However, the team ranks 20th in points allowed and boasts the 19th-best defensive rating in the Association.

For all of his faults, Simmons is one of the elite all-around defenders in the entire NBA. He can guard all five positions and was a finalist for NBA Defensive Player of the Year a season ago. All said, the former No. 1 pick is a two-time All-NBA Defensive Team performer.

Almost as important for Durant and the Nets, they added a capable long-range shooter in Seth Curry to help pick up the scoring slack that came with Harden’s departure.

As long as Irving finds a way to get vaccinated or New York City changes its COVID-19 mandates, these Nets are still going to find themselves as top-end title contenders. They added elite defense in Ben Simmons and one of the better long-range shooters in the NBA for a watered-down iteration of James Harden.

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Loser: Philadelphia 76ers salary cap, James Harden next contract

Brooklyn-Nets-James-Harden
Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

Harden, 32, had a player option worth $47.37 million for next season prior to the deal. It’s now being noted that he’s agreed to pick up said option. Given his downtick in production this season and seemingly advanced age, Harden’s next contract could end up being an albatross for the 76ers.

At this point, he’d be looking at a total of $270 million over the next five seasons — starting in 2022-23. Two-hundred and seventy million! That’s absolutely insane given that Harden will be well past his prime about mid-way through said extension.

Philadelphia is going all in right now. It owes that to Joel Embiid. But in no way does that mean the team’s relevance long-term won’t be impacted.