Exactly one year ago, the Philadelphia 76ers and Brooklyn Nets agreed to a massive deal at the trade deadline. James Harden joined the Sixers and Ben Simmons joined the Nets in one of the biggest blockbuster trades in NBA history.
With Harden and Simmons both fed up with their respective teams for different reasons, the Nets and Sixers agreed to swap stars and other players/assets. Philadelphia also acquired Paul Millsap while Brooklyn got Andre Drummond, Seth Curry and two first-round draft picks, the first of which will convey in 2023. What was once a brutal situation has become a massive blessing for Philadelphia.
After each team was eliminated in the 2022 playoffs, this trade looked like the ultimate lose-lose. Simmons didn’t play a second for the Nets after the trade while Harden flopped in the playoffs and it looked like he would be receiving a huge contract afterward. Each team appeared to be stuck with the other’s damaged goods.
Since then, James Harden has taken a long look in the mirror and has done everything the Sixers have needed him to do. He took a pay cut that allowed a cash-strapped front office to make other moves and has been nothing short of outstanding on the court. His chemistry with Joel Embiid is taking off, he’s showing more of a willingness to shoot threes off the catch and he has a clear, positive impact on their offense with a league-best 10.9 assists per game and some of the best shooting splits of his career.
Meanwhile, Ben Simmons looks like a shell of a shell of himself. He’s averaging 7.3 points, 6.5 rebounds and 6.3 assists and no longer defends like someone who belongs in the DPOY conversation. Some rust can be expected after missing a full season but what he’s doing right now is making everyone ask how this same guy was a legitimate star just a few years ago. The Nets have been frustrated by both his inability to play last season and his terrible play this season. Even Brooklyn coach Jacque Vaughn seems to be fed up.
Although Simmons got to watch the Nets punk the Sixers out in his first-ever game as a Philadelphia visitor last season, he has lost both of the matchups he has played in Philly this season. His mistakes drew a loud cheer from the Wells Fargo Center audience. He was booed relentlessly throughout both losses, one of which came against a Sixers team without Embiid, Harden and Tyrese Maxey playing.
The saving grace for the Nets is the fact that Simmons was not the lone asset they got in return. Curry has been solid for them and having two more first-rounders gives them more assets to work with. Simmons is also still just 26 years old, so it’s not completely over for him yet even though it’s trending that way. Now he will look to get back on track without Kevin Durant or Kyrie Irving to lean on. While Simmons’ failures don’t directly coincide with the Nets having to trade their superstars, he didn’t exactly help matters.
The concerns over James Harden’s ability to show up in the playoffs and his contract situation remain. But it’s clear that the Sixers made out like bandits by adding the former MVP and dumping Ben Simmons to Brooklyn. As time goes on, this trade could look different in good and bad ways for each team. But as it stands a year after the trade, the Sixers won it.