The Brooklyn Nets and Philadelphia 76ers completed the biggest trade of the season on February 10. The Nets traded James Harden and Paul Millsap to the Sixers for Ben Simmons, Seth Curry, Andre Drummond and two future first-round picks.
The blockbuster Nets-Sixers trade reunited Harden with Daryl Morey, Philadelphia’s president of basketball operations. The two worked together on the Houston Rockets from 2012-13 to 2019-20 and have a close relationship. Morey was the first person to greet Harden at the airport when the Beard landed in Philadelphia after the trade went through.
The Nets came out of the Harden trade pretty nicely despite moving on from a one-time MVP and one of the greatest players in NBA history. They got one of the top floor generals and defenders in the league in Simmons, an elite shooter in Curry and a stout rebounder in Drummond.
Once Simmons is ready to play, the Nets will have a projected starting lineup of Kyrie Irving, Curry, Simmons, Kevin Durant and LaMarcus Aldridge on the road. Irving can’t play in home games since he’s unvaccinated against COVID-19, so Patty Mills would likely replace him in the starting lineup at the Barclays Center.
It’s also worth mentioning that Durant is still recovering from a sprained MCL in his left knee, but he’s expected to return before the regular season ends.
While the winner of the Harden-Simmons trade can’t be determined until we see which team goes on a deeper playoff run, ESPN analyst Stephen A. Smith believes the Nets have the upper hand over the Sixers and that Morey deserves some blame.
Smith Blames Morey for Making Nets Better
Smith recently told Frank Isola and Brian Scalabrine on Sirus XM NBA Radio that he believes the Nets won the Harden-Simmons trade. The veteran ESPN pundit thinks Morey helped Brooklyn become a better team by giving Durant and Irving Simmons, Curry and Drummond.
“It was hard for me to get on Daryl Morey like that cuz I have so much respect and fondness for him,” Smith said. “But I think that this has the potential — I’m not saying it will because Philly is better with James Harden, make no mistake, they didn’t get worse, nobody’s implying that they’re worse — why I went off about what Daryl Morey did is because he made Brooklyn even better. He addressed all their needs.
“They needed an elite defender (Simmons), they got it. They needed a playmaker (Simmons), they got it. They needed another shooter (Curry), he (Morey) gave it to them. They needed a rebounder and some girth and mass on their thin frontline — athletic but thin — they got that in Andre Drummond, who can, when he wants to, give you 18 to 20 rebounds a night if nothing else.
“So if you add that to KD and the New York City mandate is lifted by Eric Adams and then all of a sudden, we don’t have to worry about Kyrie Irving playing at the Barclays Center because ultimately it happens, could you imagine how lethal that’s going to be?”
Smith is correct when he says the Nets look dangerous on paper. However, it’s unknown when Simmons and Durant will play again and if the New York City mandate is lifted by mayor Eric Adams.
So while Morey did give Brooklyn three special pieces in the Harden trade, he got the best player in the deal and still has Joel Embiid.
Sixers Only Have to Incorporate Harden; Nets Have More Challenges
The Sixers’ main challenge moving forward is incorporating Harden into their system. Meanwhile, the Nets have to deal with Irving only playing in road games, Durant’s injury and Simmons’ availability and lack of shooting skills. The LSU product has made just five 3-pointers in the NBA.
Philadelphia enters the second half of the season in third place in the Eastern Conference standings, while Brooklyn is in eighth place. We can’t fully evaluate the Nets until Irving, Durant and Simmons play with each other, but it seems like they have more roadblocks to overcome than the Sixers.
Maybe the Nets will go on a longer playoff run than the Sixers and be dominant with Irving, Durant, Simmons, Curry and Drummond, a scenario Smith sees coming to fruition. If that occurs, Brooklyn will have Morey to thank.