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TRADE GRADES: Nets get high marks on James Harden for Ben Simmons trade

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NBA: Philadelphia 76ers at Houston Rockets Erik Williams-USA TODAY Sports

On the TNT broadcast Thursday night, Stan Van Gundy called the Nets-Sixers “one-sided” ... in favor of Brooklyn.

“I’m concerned about Philly to be quite honest,” said Van Gundy. “I don’t see the fit. They’re the two most ball-dominant guys in the NBA. James Harden never played with a big like Joel Embiid. Philly has been throwing that ball into Joel Embiid both in the post and at the elbow.

“That’s not how James Harden plays and James Harden has played the same way wherever he’s been. He plays James Harden basketball. He’s going to have the ball in his hands a lot. He’s going to dribble it a lot. He’s certainly a talented guy but I don’t see a natural fit there. i think Doc Rivers has a huge, huge challenge on his hands with that team.”

Similarly, TNT studio analyst Charles Barley offered, “I’m looking at this trade: I’m concerned for my Sixers.”

Earlier Thursday, Malika Andrews interrupted her NBA Today show to read a text from Adrian Wojnarowski detailing the trade. The panel’s reaction told the story of how they felt about the trade...

And around the NBA, for the most part, pundits thought the Nets got the better of the deal. In all but two analyses, the Nets were given higher grades or it was an even split. There were common themes...

  • As Van Gundy said, there are concerns that the fit between the two ball-heavy superstars could take some time to gel.
  • The deal is likely to be better short-term for Philly but decidedly better long-term for Brooklyn.
  • The Nets were able to partially recoup what they gave up in the Harden deal, particularly with those two first rounders in 2022 and 2027. The Nets dealt three firsts as well as four possible swaps (the first swap in 2021 didn’t happen) to Houston and are now getting two back.
  • Seth Curry could help the Nets soften the blow of a lost Joe Harris and —along with the Nets wealth of good shooters — take pressure off Simmons.
  • Giving Harden a huge contract is risky business for Philly.

Overall, the lowest grade for the Nets was a B, the highest an A. Here’s some excerpts...

Kevin Pelton of ESPN had the most detailed take and the biggest gap between Brooklyn and Philadelphia.

Pelton first called the deal, “a midseason deal between two conference rivals with championship aspirations [that] is unprecedented in modern NBA history,” then got into the nitty-gritty. Pelton gave the Nets a B+, the Sixers a C-.

Trading Harden anywhere but Philly was going to be a challenge because of his contract. We already know from the past six months’ of trade rumors that Simmons has value elsewhere if Brooklyn doesn’t like the fit.

The Nets also recouped two of the three first-round picks they sent the Rockets for Harden, allowing them to sweeten deals in a way that wasn’t previously possible. And it’s possible that Harris becomes easier for Brooklyn to move with Curry as a replacement already on the roster.

Add it up and there’s no question the Nets won this trade from a value perspective. Just how much they sacrificed in terms of short-term championship equity is tougher to tell based on Harden’s mindset. Brooklyn also strengthened a competitor in the East for this year’s playoffs, an important part of the calculation. Given all that, I understand why the Nets were willing to hold out and make the deal more favorable for them than a straight swap.

At The Athletic, Zach Harper liked the deal for both sides, giving each an A- but he thought that Sean Marks was able to recover nicely from his Harden problem.

This isn’t what Sean Marks envisioned when he acquired Harden during the first month of last season, but with the way things have fallen apart, this isn’t a bad consolation prize for Harden wanting out. First, we should try to re-establish that Simmons is a hell of a player. Yes, he has some major flaws when it comes to the scoring aspect of the game, disappears in big moments and doesn’t have the same aggressiveness going to the basket entering the fourth quarter. There seems to be an aversion to getting fouled, so he doesn’t embarrass himself at the free-throw line with his poor shooting...

The Sixers jumped at the possibility to pair him with Embiid. While some posturing occurred to keep the price of the trade down with what was going back to Brooklyn, Morey eventually gave in by including Curry, Drummond and draft picks. There wasn’t going to be a straight-up move of Simmons for Harden. Philadelphia caved into giving up a bit more to get Harden and Embiid together right away instead of hoping for something to materialize this summer.

At USA Today, Mike D. Sykes II also gave the Nets and Sixers the same grade, two A’s, noting that Simmons D could help the Nets big-time.

If you’re going to trade away a player like James Harden, this is absolutely how you do it.

This isn’t quite what they gave up to get Harden, but it certainly gets them close. They get an All-Star player in Ben Simmons who — if he returns to form — will immediately fix so many of that team’s defensive issues.

He’s an incredible switching defender who can guard 1 through 5 competently for Brooklyn. That’s something they didn’t have before and something that will immediately make them better...

Say what you want about Ben Simmons and his struggles. The Brooklyn Nets feel like a much more complete team with him on the roster. This could be really good.

The 76ers immediately get better here because they add an All-Star to a rotation spot where they were getting absolutely nothing.

Harden is the best playmaker Joel Embiid will have ever played with. Of course, there will be questions about the fit and how things will work between the two of them.

Harden is a player who thrives in spread pick-and-roll attacks. Embiid is a guy who destroys teams from the block with his face-up game. Those two styles conflict in a major way, so it’ll be interesting to see how they work things out.

At Sports Illustrated, Rohan Nadkarni gave the Nets a B+, the Sixers an A mainly because Morey waited till the deal he wanted came along.

The Nets made the best move available to save a season—and a superstar team-up—that was in the midst of unraveling. Nobody has seen Ben Simmons play professional basketball this season. Still, on paper, he’s a perfect fit next to Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving (when he actually plays). Simmons is a Defensive Player of the Year–caliber defender capable of picking up nearly every guard or forward as well as some centers. He won’t be asked to be the second option on offense, and he won’t even have to handle the ball when playing alongside Irving...

Meanwhile, Curry is a nice add here! His shooting is going to be extremely dangerous on this team, and he’ll be needed with Joe Harris out. Curry can play next to both Irving and Patty Mills, which is important due to Kyrie’s current part-time status...

If I had told you after Game 7 between the Hawks and Sixers last summer that Philly could trade Ben Simmons for James Harden, wouldn’t you have said there was no way that could happen? This is a coup for Daryl Morey, who waited out the critics (me) long enough to land the star he so desperately coveted. Is Harden a great fit next to Embiid? Unclear. Is Harden’s history of bad star partnerships and messy exits concerning? Absolutely.

Over at The Sporting News, Stephen Noh also gave the two sides an A, like Van Gundy focusing possible issues with the fit.

Trading Harden for Simmons may seem like a downgrade for the Nets, but there was smoke that he would leave anyway in the offseason. Additionally, he looked pretty checked out in his most recent games. Recouping a young player in Simmons gave them a way to hedge that risk and also compete in this year’s playoffs.

Who knows what Simmons’ mental state is, but if he can get back onto the court then he can help stem the Nets’ brutal slide. They’ve lost nine straight games, including their last three by 20 or more. If they had stood pat, it is hard to imagine them making a serious run at the title...

Harden isn’t the same player that he was a few seasons ago. His burst has looked decidedly worse this season, his defensive effort has been apathetic, and his numbers are down across the board. But a lesser Harden is still a much better player than the dead roster spot that the Sixers had before. And even in a down year, Harden is still a top 20 player. He’s averaging 22.5 points, 10.2 assists, and 8.0 rebounds per game and was selected to his 10th All-Star game by the coaches around the league.

The fit between Harden and Embiid will be interesting to monitor. Morey has traditionally let Harden play out of spread pick-and-roll, controlling the ball for whole possessions to set up teammates. How will that mesh with Joel Embiid, who is a dominant post player that will need touches down there?

Sam Quinn at CBS Sports gave the Nets a B+, the 76ers a B, seemingly swayed by the long-term risks related to Harden’s conditioning ... and how whether he’ll be worth what he’s likely to get paid by Philly.

[T]he Nets have probably relinquished their status as 2022 championship favorites.

But, dear lord, their 2022-23 team stands to be among the best on-paper rosters in NBA history. Assume for the moment that everybody is healthy and available. The key to maximizing Simmons is to put as much shooting around him as humanly possible. Well … the Nets now have five players on their roster who have made at least 38 percent of their 3-pointers on high volume for their career...

But perhaps most importantly, it avoided giving Harden the five-year extension he is eligible for. Based on his already enormous $44 million salary, he could have earned up to $270 million over the next five seasons on such a deal. Harden is already 32 and declining. He has never been particularly vigilant about conditioning, struggled defensively in his prime and has dealt with hamstring issues all year. There is a chance the contract Harden’s about to get from Philadelphia is going to be one of the worst in NBA history...

The Embiid-Harden fit is going to be clunky at first. Harden almost has to be used in a switch-scheme defensively to cover up his deficiencies on the perimeter. Embiid is maybe the best drop-coverage defender in the NBA. Harden’s ideal pick-and-roll partner is a lob threat. Embiid isn’t really a roller. He prefers to pop out behind the arc or get the ball around the nail and go to work from there. There’s no reason to believe that either Harden or Embiid would actively hinder one another.

Tim Capurso at Clutch Points gives the Sixers the slightest of edges, grading the Nets take at B+, the Sixers an A-. He likes the Nets “haul.”

What an NBA trade deadline haul for the Nets. While there’s certainly a level of unpredictability in acquiring Ben Simmons from the Sixers, he certainly seems to fit at first glance as an elite distributor and defender alongside Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving.

Also, it’s highly impressive for the Nets to have turned Harden into Simmons, a much-needed sharpshooter in Seth Curry and a much-needed big man in Andre Drummond. Not only did the Nets subtract James Harden, who was seemingly entering into locker room-distraction territory, but they also managed to address two of their biggest areas of need while also securing two future first-round picks from Philly...

Admittedly, the Sixers had to give up a whole lot to bring James Harden to Philly. However, Sixers GM Daryl Morey deserves credit for not only trading Ben Simmons, who hasn’t played a single minute this year, but getting an MVP-caliber player like Harden in return.

Not only that, but the Sixers were able to keep youngsters such as Tyrese Maxey and Matisse Thybulle, two of their key building blocks for the future. In acquiring Harden from the Nets at the NBA trade deadline, the Sixers are clearly putting all of their eggs in the basket for a championship this season...

Finally, Ricky O’Donnell at SB Nation thinks that the Sixers won the trade, giving them an A and the Nets a B. He thinks Philly got immediate help, Brooklyn long term.

The big deal the entire league was waiting on finally happened. Harden has had a down year by his standards, but he’s still been one of the best guards in the East this season. He pair with the leading MVP candidate Joel Embiid to make the Sixers an immediate championship threat. The Nets’ title hopes take a hit here, but Simmons and Curry are both nice fits next to Durant and Irving long-term. The Nets’ bold trade for Harden did not pay off, but they come out of it with a younger star who profiles as one of the league’s best defenders in Simmons.