NBA Trade Grades: Who won the James Harden for Ben Simmons swap?

Photo by Tim Nwachukwu/Getty Images
Photo by Tim Nwachukwu/Getty Images /

Until the very last moment, it seemed like it might not happen. But it did, so who won the James Harden for Ben Simmons swap?

First, it just made sense on paper. Then it began leaking from fake trades on Twitter to actually sourced rumors. We’ve known for days that both the Philadelphia 76ers and Brooklyn Nets were considering a James Harden for Ben Simmons trade but it was hard to gauge how close things actually were, with ESPN colleagues dropping diametrically opposed reports.

This morning Woj, made clear that James Harden did want to be traded, which may have added some extra leverage, enough to get the Nets to agree even without getting Matisse Thybulle, a reported sticking point. And then, it was done.

The Philadelphia 76ers will reportedly receive Harden and Paul Millsap. The Nets receive Ben Simmons, Seth Curry, Andre Drummond and two first-round picks — an unprotected 2022 pick that the Nets can choose to defer until 2023, and a top-eight protected pick in 2027.

So, who won the James Harden for Ben Simmons trade?

Judging winners and losers here is a bit difficult because this wasn’t just a massive trade of two star players, it was also a trade between rivals who are both among the handful of legitimate contenders in the Eastern Conference. In addition, separate from talent and upside, both teams win by removing an unhappy player from the roster and resolving a lingering issue that had been casting a long shadow over their seasons.

The Nets did about as well as they could have for Harden, knowing that if they didn’t make a trade now they were likely to lose him for nothing down the road. Curry will play a meaningful role this year and assuming Simmons is ready to play he’s a big defensive upgrade with an offensive skill set that, on paper, meshes well enough with Durant and Irving. But it’s not quite that simple because they’ve also given a chief rival a huge upgrade — remember the 76ers weren’t getting anything from Simmons so they’ve essentially turned Curry into Harden and Drummond into Millsap, while holding onto Thybulle, Tyrese Maxey and everything else has made them so good this season. There’s more of a zero-sum nature to this trade than if the Nets had traded Harden to the Western Conference.

In addition, the Nets will have to navigate all the same issues with Simmons that the 76ers couldn’t break through the past few years — his poor and reluctant shooting, especially in big moments. Maybe he’s a different player after this experience. But if he’s not, they could get a big regular-season boost and find themselves with a new weakness to scheme around when the playoffs start.

The one other silver lining here is that, with the picks and Simmons being just 25, the Nets are much better prepared to thrive whenever this Durant-Irving era comes to a close.

Brooklyn Nets Grade: B+

As I mentioned above, this is almost all added value for the 76ers, turning Curry into Harden. Yes, they will absolutely miss Curry’s shooting. Yes, Harden’s ball dominance could be an issue with Maxey and Embiid. Yes, Harden has played well below his career level this season. But how often does a team get the chance to trade a player who isn’t even in their rotation for a former MVP averaging nearly a triple-double?

Of course, they get the benefit of addition by subtraction, removing the shadow of Simmons’ holdout and hopefully getting a happier and more engaged Harden than the one the Nets have seen this year. And, they might have made the Nets weaker in the short-term, knocking a potential playoff foe down a peg.

Daryl Morey has always believed when you have a chance to win a championship, you go for it, aggressively. This is that kind of move and it should definitely raise the 76ers’ chances of winning it all.

Philadelphia 76ers Grade: A-

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