The deal is finally done. The trade everybody has been talking about for a week went through with two hours to go before the NBA trade deadline. James Harden is headed to the Philadelphia 76ers and Ben Simmons is going to the Brooklyn Nets. It's a blockbuster deal that will have far-reaching consequences for both sides.
In the immediate, here are the biggest winners and losers from the biggest deal of the deadline.
Simmons is obviously the biggest winner of this deal. For all of Daryl Morey's posturing about forcing Simmons to stay with the Sixers for years because of his contract, Simmons got exactly what he wanted: a trade out of Philly. Even better, he got traded to a contending team that boasts one of the best players on the planet in Kevin Durant and a team in desperate need of his skills. He gets to stay in a big market and nobody will care what he does because the success of the Nets does not depend on whether or not he can make a shot. It's all about Durant while Simmons does what he does best. The perfect outcome for Simmons' holdout. He and Rich Paul couldn't have planned it much better.
We here at The Big Lead (primarily myself) have been aggressively criticizing Morey for stubbornly waiting to land the big fish he wanted instead of just trading Simmons for what he could get and rolling with Joel Embiid. We mocked the list of 30 players he would settle for in exchange for Simmons. And we were not alone. Until two days ago, Morey's decision to hang onto Simmons seemed more and more like a mistake that would waste a prime Embiid year while making the Sixers a laughingstock. Well, Morey is vindicated. His patience paid off. He managed to get a former MVP and current All-Star talent, an ideal running mate for Embiid, in exchange for a player who wouldn't step foot on the court. Regardless of how well this partnership works out, Morey has earned his flowers.
Since Harden apparently didn't want to be with the Nets anymore, he emerges as a winner here. He was traded to another contending team who is run by a man he knows very well and will likely give him the gigantic contract he desires. Harden has never played with a big man like Embiid before, and if the superstar center continues on his current pace, Harden won't have to shoulder the load like he did in Houston and then Brooklyn. Given how quickly things unfolded and how miserable Harden appeared to be, it's hard to imagine a better outcome for him at this juncture.
Simmons is a great fit for this Nets team and landing Seth Curry along with him makes the trade a good one for Brooklyn. It's still difficult to see them as anything other than losers after Harden forced his way out. They gave up basically all their draft picks for the next six years to land Harden this time last year and he requested a trade 12 months later. The Nets did get the Sixers' first-rounder this year and Simmons very well could be a long-term building block, but they gave up a superstar haul only to watch that superstar get hurt before the playoffs, lose in the second round of those playoffs, and then leave. The outcome of the Harden trade isn't the worst-case scenario, but it's far from what the Nets (and the world) expected to happen.
As with the caveats above, there's a good chance Simmons fits better than Harden with this Nets team and it might pay dividends in the playoffs, when defense is equally as important as offense. But we don't know that'll happen. All we know for now is that Durant just lost a superstar teammate in exchange for a guy who couldn't take a wide-open layup in a crucial spot in last year's playoffs. Durant also presumably signed off on the move to get Harden and promised to make it work. He failed, even if it was due to circumstances entirely outside of his control. If Durant didn't get hurt last month, maybe none of this happens. But he did, and it did, and now Durant has to try and win a championship with a guard who won't shoot.
The Rest of the Eastern Conference
Before this trade happened, the Nets were in disarray and poised to stumble through the rest of the regular season with a miserable Harden and an inactive Kyrie Irving. The Sixers had a hard ceiling on their title hopes due to the lack of support around Embiid and the iffy ability of anybody other than Seth Curry to make jumpers from deep. Both teams have fixed those problems. The Harden-Embiid combo is as dangerous as any in the NBA and the Nets ditched their unhappy camper who had been playing terribly anyway while adding an All-NBA defender. This transaction balances both teams and, on paper, makes them better than they were before. Tough news for the Bulls, Heat, and everybody else hoping to take the conference title this season.