By MIKE HERNDON
It must be something to be a Brooklyn Nets fan. At the very least, it’d never be boring.
Your best player’s skin is thinner than parchment, the tiniest hint of a slight sending him running for Twitter to fire back. Your high-scoring guard can’t play home games since he insists on not getting vaccinated. He may still think the Earth is flat.
And you just traded the third member of a triumvirate of superstars that was supposed to get you to the promised land of an NBA title. Though he had a reputation for not playing much defense and failing to elevate his teams in the postseason, he was probably the most level-headed of the bunch.
James Harden said he wanted to be in Philadelphia all along, but he’d obviously had enough of the circus that is the Brooklyn Nets.
The Nets’ trade of Harden to Philadelphia for Ben Simmons might have seemed a case of both teams unloading their problem baggage, except Harden was the least of Brooklyn’s problems. He’d taken over point guard duties last season in what seemed like an unselfish move. Here was a guy viewed as a me-first scorer taking a back seat to help a team on which he was clearly the second, and sometimes third option.
Simmons, meanwhile, hadn’t played all season since completely losing his confidence in the 2021 postseason. He clearly wasn’t going to play in a Sixers uniform again and was a lead weight dragging down what should have been a contending roster – until the Nets came along.
Harden and Simmons weren’t the only players involved in the deal – Seth Curry and Andre Drummond also went to Brooklyn along with two first-round picks, and Paul Millsap went to Philly.
I have heard commentators characterize the trade as being good for Philly in the short term, potentially giving the Sixers a shot at a title this year, and good for Brooklyn in the long run. That seems like logical analysis since if one looks at the picks and the two stars involved — Harden is 32 and Simmons is 25.
But the Nets aren’t built for the long run. They’re built to win now, except they aren’t. Injuries derailed them last season and Kyrie Irving’s unavailability for home games has hampered them this year, as they currently sit in eighth place in the East. Simmons, still working on his state of mind after last season’s playoff debacle, has yet to play in a Brooklyn uniform. When he’ll be ready, or how he’ll play when he returns, is anyone’s guess.
This was never a team that was going to stay together for long. Kevin Durant will lose interest, as he has with every other team he’s played with. Kyrie will jump ship at some point, probably for no reason whatsoever, like a dog spotting a squirrel.
The Nets had better hope they use those two first-rounders wisely, because that’s all they’ll have left. Perhaps that was the key to this trade all along – an admission that the Durant-Irving-Harden experiment was a failure, a throwing in of the towel.
Harden, meanwhile, gives the Sixers what they seem to need: another scorer. He’s not the 30-point-a-night guy he was in Houston, but he can still fill it up in spots. With Joel Embiid having an MVP-caliber season, it might be enough to get the Sixers over the hump in a year when there doesn’t appear to be a clear front-runner in the East.
The Suns look like a juggernaut in the making, but anything can happen in a seven-game series – even with Harden, a player whose playoff failures are well-documented. But we have seen players known for falling short in the postseason overcome their failures many times in many different sports – John Elway, Alex Ovechkin, Wilt Chamberlain.
Perhaps Harden will join them. If he ends up being the missing piece of an NBA championship team, this trade will have been well worth it for the Sixers.
But I’m not even sure the Sixers have to win a title to have won this trade. They won it simply by not being the Nets. They are taking their shot now, when they’ve got one. The Nets, built for the here and now, just threw theirs away.