NBA Execs: Nets Played on Sixers’ ‘Worst Fear’ in Ben Simmons Blockbuster

Ben Simmons, Brooklyn Nets

Getty Ben Simmons, Brooklyn Nets

Now that the dust has settled from the series of moves at the NBA trade deadline, people around the league are examining the rubble and offering their thoughts.

There seems to be a difference of opinion as to who got the better of the Brooklyn-Philadelphia exchange of very rich people, James Harden and Ben Simmons.

“The Sixers had to give up some good stuff beyond Simmons, but they fixed their biggest need,” said one league exec. “It’s going to be hard to beat Joel Embiid when he’s got Harden out front.”

Said another, “(Kevin) Durant and Kyrie (Irving) are a monster just by themselves. Now you’re adding a guy who can defend and get them the ball in Simmons. I don’t see how they’re not the favorite — especially if New York changes that vaccine requirement and allows Kyrie to play home games.

“Hell, if New York lifts that requirement, that could be bigger than any move at the trade deadline right here.”

The desperation on the part of Philly’s Daryl Morey to get this done now was clearly predicated on not wanting to wait until the offseason when Harden could opt out of his contract and make a change more likely.

“Even with Harden finally telling Brooklyn he wanted out, Daryl’s worst fear was that he couldn’t get the trade and the Nets went on to get it together and win,” said an Eastern Conference exec. “What if all of a sudden Harden wins a championship there and gets to be the toast of New York with those guys? Daryl might have been left with nothing but a guy who still didn’t want to play for him (Simmons), not to mention Embiid being pissed off because you didn’t get him any help and you just let Simmons sit there.”

As one general manager told, “Brooklyn was holding all the cards. They didn’t have to do anything. They were playing that all the way, because they were not going to get into Daryl’s charade. Brooklyn was holding out for the longest time to get (Tyrese) Maxey, and there was no way Philly was doing that. That’s how the Nets ended up with Curry and some draft picks.

“They had all the cards. I don’t think Philly minded losing (Andre) Drummond. Seth Curry was a tough one for them to give up, but they had to do something to make the money work.”

And while some believe the Durant-Irving-Harden trio would be fine with more time together — amazingly, because of injuries and Kyrie’s thoughts on the COVID vaccine, they had just 16 games — there was a question as to whether their personal games would clash at some point.

“James Harden wants spacing on the court,” said a front office source. “That’s all he cares about. ‘I need spacing. I need shooters all around me.’ And Kyrie the same. And Kevin Durant wants defensive guys, because he doesn’t need spacing. He just catches and shoots over people. It’s a different mentality of how to go about it. They’re all right. Of course you want defense and size. But for James Harden to score 40 points and have 15 assists, he needs shooters everywhere and a lob catcher at the rim. So everybody wants to play their way.”

Celtics looked for more in Schroder deal

The Celtics’ deal with Houston came down in the final moments before the deadline, with Dennis Schroder, Bruno Fernando and Enes Freedom being sent for Daniel Theis.

Word is the Celts were looking at other options for Schroder, whose in and out play and the fact it would be near impossible to re-sign him this summer made him a prime candidate for a new address. We’re told the Lakers were offering a couple of second-round picks and some minimum contracts and that there were a number of other talks, but the C’s eventually decided to clear out roster space and reunite with Theis.

“I think they wanted something better than what they got,” said a source from one team that was involved in discussions with the Celtics. “Maybe Theis will be better now that he’s back in Boston, but he’s looked awful this year. They didn’t like him in Chicago, and he hasn’t played well in Houston at all. Maybe some of that’s just on the Rockets and what they were going through. And the familiarity Theis has with those guys should help him.”

End of the Line for Freedom?

There’s certain to be a good deal of noise around the Enes Freedom situation. The Celtics brought him back on a minimum contract this season, and he played sparingly, racking up a number of DNP-CDs (did not play-coach’s decision). He was moved to Houston in the Dennis Schroder trade at the deadline and promptly waived by the Rockets.

Freedom now seems to be highlighting the uncertainty over whether he will get another NBA job by the fact he has been outspoken on a number of social issues. He has been retweeting comments from conservative legislators who argue he is being punished for his stances against the government in China.

“I think people agree with almost of all of the positions he’s taken,” said one league exec. “I think this just comes down to basketball.

“Ime (Udoka) wants to switch everything on defense, which made it strange that Brad (Stevens) signed Enes. Switching is what he can’t do.”

Said another team’s GM, “I don’t know if anyone else signs him. Maybe not. I think from a basketball standpoint, it’s really questionable. I’m not sure if any of the other stuff will even come into play. I don’t think he won’t get a job because of anything he’s said or done. I think he just doesn’t guard, and the game is changing. He plays a lot older than he really is.”

He began the season as Enes Kanter and legally changed his last name to Freedom when he gained U.S. citizenship. His last appearance was just prior the deadline, when he was part of the end of bench unit that mopped up the 35-point win over the depleted Nets. Freedom played the last 12 minutes, going for 7 points and 12 rebounds. He averaged 3.7 points in 11.7 minutes over 35 appearances this season, playing behind Robert Williams, Al Horford and even Grant Williams in the big man rotation.


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