Done Deal: Nets trade James Harden to 76ers for Ben Simmons

NBA: Brooklyn Nets at Phoenix Suns
James Harden against the Phoenix Suns at Footprint Center.
Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

The Nets and Philadelphia 76ers have completed a blockbuster deal that ends James Harden’s tenure in Brooklyn and sends Ben Simmons to Kings County.

The Sixers also send Seth Curry, Andre Drummond and two first-round picks to the Nets alongside  Simmons, in exchange for Harden and Paul Millsap.

It ends a weeks-long saga around speculation that Harden had grown increasingly unhappy in Brooklyn and caps a somewhat disappointing end to the “Big 3” era for the Nets. 

The picks included in the deal are the Sixers 2022 first-round pick unprotected and a 2027 first-round selection that is protected 1-to-8, according to Adrian Wojnarowski. The Nets will be able to defer the 2022 pick to 2023.

“We are thrilled to welcome Ben, Seth, Andre and their families to Brooklyn,” Nets General Manager Sean Marks said in a statement. “Ben is an All-NBA and All-Defensive player with elite playmaking abilities, while Seth has proven to consistently be one of the league’s best 3-point shooters and Andre has been one of the league’s top rebounders for the last decade. Together, the three will enhance our core by providing versatility and depth on both ends of the floor while better balancing our roster.

“The decision to trade James was a difficult one, however after recent discussions with him and his representatives we felt that this move would be best for all involved, as it better positions us to achieve our goals this season and in the years ahead. We appreciate everything that James has done for our organization both on and off the court and wish him, Paul and DeAndre’ the best moving forward.”

The deal came with less than two hours to go before the NBA’s 3 p.m. trade deadline as word began to break that Simmon’s camp was optimistic that something was going to happen. The Nets and Sixers’ deal had reportedly been hung up over Brooklyn’s desire to include Matisse Thybulle in the deal.

The additions of Simmons, Curry, and Drummond will provide some much-needed relief for a Nets team that has dealt with a slew of injuries to their starters and rotation players over the past few months.  It also ends a standoff between Simmons and the Sixers.

Simmons will continue to work with his therapist to prepare for Brooklyn, ESPN’s Romona Shelburne reported. He has not played for Philly this season in part because he was not mentally ready to suit up.

One source told Shelburne that it was “a work in progress” and that he was looking forward to the change of scenery. Simmons and Kevin Durant have already spoken.

Brooklyn’s “Big 3” era ended a little more than a year after  Nets general manager Sean Marks brought Harden in to join Durant and Kyrie Irving in January of 2021. The Nets traded Jarrett Allen, Taurean Prince,  Caris LeVert, Rodions Kurucs, and three first-round draft picks as part of the package to add Harden to their roster.

However, things never fully went according to the plan everyone expected it to as injuries and COVID severely limited their time on the court together.

When all was said and done, Durant, Irving, and Harden played together in just 16 games over the past two seasons and went 13-3 in that time. Perhaps their best performance this season came in Chicago in early January, when the Nets topped the Chicago Bulls in resounding, with all three in the lineup.

Things progressively deteriorated after that. Durant suffered an MCL sprain on Jan. 15 against New Orleans and hasn’t played since. Injuries to LaMarcus Aldridge, Nic Claxton and the ongoing recovery of Joe Harris, coupled with Irving’s part-time status due to being unvaccinated, added more pressure on Harden’s shoulders.

The Nets have gone 2-10 since the Durant injury as well and dropped nine straight games.

The deal finally came together after weeks of speculation culminated in a rapid change of direction for both the Sixers and Nets. In mid-January, reports surfaced that there was a growing belief inside the Sixers’ front office that Harden was open to leaving Brooklyn and that they would have a strong chance at getting him during the offseason.

The situation picked up steam after a Jan. 25 report that Harden had grown frustrated with the situation in Brooklyn from the team’s rotation to Kyrie Irving’s part-time status to his life in Kings County. Harden tried to downplay the report at the time but did acknowledge he was “frustrated” because the team had been losing.

In the midst of ongoing speculation, Harden dealt with injuries to his hand and hamstring that forced him off the court. Harden missed the Nets’ final three games before the trade because of tightness in his left hamstring.

Simmons has dealt with his own issues in  Philadelphia since Game 7 against the Atlanta Hawks last season. He demanded a trade out of the “City of Brotherly Love” in the offseason and when that didn’t occur he held out at the start of the year.

Simmons did briefly return but never played and eventually told the team he was not mentally ready to step on the court.