When does a rivalry become a real rivalry?
In the case of the Nets and 76ers, how about March 10, the next time the reconstituted teams face each ... in Philadelphia?
“Can I just tell you how appreciative I am as a fan that now in the Eastern Conference we have a full-blown rivalry?” ESPN analyst Jay Williams said on the network after the trade. “We have teams that don’t like each other.
“If it’s from [Kevin Durant] skipping over James Harden so he can be the last pick in the All-Star reserves, if it’s Ben Simmons and the way he felt he was treated by Joel Embiid, if it’s Daryl Morey and Sean Marks and how they negotiated and got this deal done by the stretch. I feel like when we watch these two teams play, it’ll be more of a version of the ’90s version of basketball in the Eastern Conference.”
As Brian Lewis writes Sunday for New York Post Sports+...
Once the home of rivalries as fierce as SEC football or European soccer, the Eastern Conference has been devoid of a good one for the past quarter century. And while it may take a playoff showdown to get Nets-76ers heated into a full-fledged feud, the makings of malice are already there.
Start with the 2019 playoffs, first round, which started with a Nets upset win over the 76ers and continued with game after game of intensive and often physical basketball and fines upon fines.
There was Embiid’s attempt to bully (and almost behead) Brooklyn’s Jarrett Allen in Game 2, which he punctuated by laughing about it with Simmons in a postgame press conference in a time before the pair’s falling out. Not surprisingly, the Nets found the episode disrespectful, and Dudley fired back some shade in the press.
When Embiid committed another Flagrant 1 on Allen in Game 4 that the Nets felt warranted a Flagrant 2 and an ejection, Dudley rushed to his teammate’s defense and pushed Embiid down. Philadelphia’s Jimmy Butler retaliated, and players had to be separated. Dudley and Butler were thrown out, and even Marks got suspended and fined for storming into the referee’s locker room.
Even Joe Tsai, then the Nets minority owner, got in on the action. He was fined $35,000 for this tweet...
My partners and I have spoken and the entire Nets ownership group support our GM Sean Marks for protesting the wrong calls and missed calls. NBA rules are rules and we respect that, but our players and fans expect things to be fair.— Joe Tsai (@joetsai1999) April 22, 2019
Ben Simmons even talked about the series this week in his introductory press conference.
“I’ve been on the other side,” Simmons said with a smile. “I’ve played Brooklyn in the first round and had them booing, Jared Dudley talking s–t to me. That was a lot of fun actually; I love Jared for that.”
One big question, of course, is whether Simmons will be ready for the March 10 game. “I hope so,” he replied when asked this week at his press conference. The game will be on TNT and assuming everyone is healthy and eligible, it should be a hell of a show.
Some have suggested that Simmons may not be ready to face the famously fickle Philly fan base. Lewis lays out a litany of weirdness in the City of Brotherly Love.
‘F–k Ben Simmons’ had become a very on-brand Philadelphia mantra, chanted throughout Philly’s sporting arenas while he was still on the 76ers roster and refusing to play. At a Flyers-Bruins game. At an AEW wrestling event on the Temple University campus. At Wells Fargo before a preseason game against the Nets when Simmons wasn’t even in the building.
One vexed fan wandered around in snowy downtown Philadelphia in the week leading up to the trade deadline, holding a huge sign with the same profane message.
When the fan was asked why he was so upset with Simmons, told a reporter, “Google him.”
Will Simmons risk his mental health by facing that level of rabidity? Hard to believe he won’t. As The Athletic’s Sixer beat reporter, Rich Hoffman, said on the Glue Guys, he’ll have to do it at some point. The Nets will play the 76ers in Philly twice every season. The real challenge, of course, will be on the court vs. Joel Embiid who famously criticized Simmons following the 76ers loss to the Hawks in the second round of last year’s playoffs.
Interestingly, Simmons got an endorsement this weekend from Trae Young. While claiming he likes to see things from both sides, Young reserved most of criticism for one side.
“As a teammate, as a coach, you feel like they should always have your back. They’re your brother. You’re there grinding in the offseason, before the season started and then throughout the whole season you’re with each other.
“And then after the playoffs, everybody jumps on you as far as the fans, and then the team, your coach, and it feels like you just lose connection. So it’s hard to really go back to that. But at the same time, I mean, we all take constructive criticism.”
That’s unlikely to change anyone’s minds in Philadelphia prior to the March 10 and the War at Wells-Fargo. They’re settled in their feelings ... and knowing Brooklyn fans, expect them to settled soon enough. The Brooklyn Brigade is already planning a road trip.
- Why the Ben Simmons-James Harden trade could fuel the NBA’s next great feud - Brian Lewis - New York Post Sports+
- The Nets still think they can salvage a ring from the chaos - Kristian Winfield - New York Daily News