James Harden #13 of the Brooklyn Nets drives against Ben Simmons #25 of the Philadelphia 76ers during the third quarter at Wells Fargo Center on February 06, 2021 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
Tim Nwachukwu | Getty Images
The NBA’s biggest trade domino fell just before the league’s deadline Thursday.
The Brooklyn Nets will trade guard James Harden to the Philadelphia 76ers for a package centered around guard Ben Simmons, The Athletic and ESPN reported. Both outlets reported that the 76ers will also receive forward Paul Millsap, while the Nets will get guard Seth Curry, center Andre Drummond and two first-round draft picks.
The trade will resolve simmering tensions for both teams, which entered the season with championship hopes. The former league MVP Harden has reportedly grown frustrated in Brooklyn as the loaded Nets, beset by an injury to Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving’s limited availability due to his refusal to receive a Covid-19 vaccine, find themselves near the middle of the league’s Eastern Conference.
Simmons, meanwhile, has refused to play for the 76ers this season after the one-time All-NBA player shouldered much of the blame for his team’s collapse in last season’s playoffs. The 76ers and center Joel Embiid, one of the leading candidates for this season’s MVP award, have remained among the top teams in the East without Simmons.
The trade ends a short-lived experiment in Brooklyn, which traded away much of its future last year to have Harden join fellow superstars Durant and Irving. The trio played only 16 games together.
The Nets, playing without Harden and Irving for much of the series, lost to the eventual champion Milwaukee Bucks in last season’s playoffs.
Philadelphia looked to improve its roster around Embiid to maximize his stellar play this season. Harden, 32, will be reunited with Philadelphia’s president of basketball operations Daryl Morey.
As a Houston Rockets executive, Morey traded for Harden, who helped to make the team one of the top franchises in the league during the 2010s.
The 25-year-old Simmons, the first overall pick in the 2016 NBA Draft, helped Embiid to lead the 76ers to perennial playoff contention. Their success followed “The Process,” years of deliberate losing in the mid-2010s to accumulate top draft picks and other assets.
Simmons, long maligned for his reticence to shoot, drew backlash from fans for his performance in his team’s Game 7 loss to the Atlanta Hawks in last season’s playoffs. At a critical moment in the game, the 6-foot-11-inch Simmons passed up a dunk when 6-foot-1-inch Atlanta guard Trae Young was the nearest defender.
Atlanta’s upset win over Philadelphia, and Simmons’ decision not to shoot, contributed to the guard’s impasse with his team this year.