By Yaron Weitzmann
FOX Sports NBA Writer
I don’t think it’s hyperbolic in any way to call the Ben Simmons–james harden deal one of the most fascinating trades in NBA history.
Think about it like this: When was the last time two stars, basically in their respective primes (Harden might be on the way out, but he’s not John Wall or Russell Westbrook), were they traded for each other? And when was the last time two teams that very likely could match up in the conference finals agreed to swap key parts in the middle of a season?
And when was the last time we saw a deal between two teams that made both those teams immediately better? Neither the Nets nor the Sixers are building for the future or amassing draft picks or clearing cap space. They both want to win — not just games but titles.
So does this deal push either of these teams closer to accomplishing that? The answer is yes for both. Which in a way makes things more complicated because it means they’ll likely have to go through each other, but in a vacuum, both the Nets and Sixers are better today than they were yesterday.
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Let’s start with the Sixers’ side of things, which is the simpler side to analyze. You know the basics here. They’ve gotten zero minutes from Simmons this season, yet thanks to the greatness of Joel Embiid, they’ve been able to hang in the top half of the Eastern Conference playoff picture.
Now they add Harden, which — and you don’t need me to tell you this, but it’s what I’m here for — makes them better. Because even as well as the Sixers have been playing, they had no chance of winning a title with the previous roster. The addition of Harden changes that.
Of course, that doesn’t mean the transition to the Harden-Embiid era is going to be smooth. Harden hasn’t exactly proven himself to be adept at playing alongside other stars. DwightHoward. Russell Westbrook. Kevin Durant. Kyrie Irving. You can make a Hall of Fame starting lineup of the players Harden has clashed with.
And it’s not like his and Embiid’s games are perfect matches. What is Embiid going to do when Harden dances with the ball at the top of the key? What is Harden going to do when Embiid pounds the ball in the post?
But these are first-world problems. The Sixers now have the game’s top big man and one of its premier shot-creators. They’re going to be a blast to watch.
As for the Nets, this trade is a bit more complicated, but I think Simmons is a perfect fit for Brooklyn and the Nets a perfect fit for him. Simmons is going to thrive playing in a system in which he isn’t asked to score and his only jobs from him are to lock down opposing top guns and push the ball.
Simmons’ presence will also make Durant better. Durant has been the Nets’ best perimeter defender this season and often the only player on the roster capable of guarding big, versatile guards. Now Simmons can take that role, which should allow Durant to save some energy for the offensive end of the floor, a thought that should terrify opponents.
Brooklyn is also a perfect market for Simmons. He gets to live in a big city, which we know he prefers, but the Nets are covered like a small-market team. He’ll be out of the spotlight.
That the Nets were also able to get two first-round picks, plus Seth Curry, makes this a win for them. His shooting of him will be a huge boost to the team, and Durant and Simmons should be able to cover up his defensive weaknesses. Both these teams are better today. Here’s hoping we get to see them face off for seven games in the playoffs.
Yaron Weitzman is an NBA writer for FOX Sports and the author of “Tanking to the Top: The Philadelphia 76ers and the Most Audacious Process in the History of Professional Sports.” Follow him on Twitter @YaronWeitzman.
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