Nearly three years after his free agent departure from the Golden State Warriors, Kevin Durant and the Brooklyn Nets acknowledged that he can’t win a title without a Curry. In a blockbuster deal just ahead of the trade deadline, the Nets sent disgruntled All-Star guard James Harden to the Philadelphia 76ers for even more disgruntled All-Star guard Ben Simmons, plus former All-Star Andre Drummond, Non-Splash-But-Actual Brother Seth Curry, and two first-round draft picks. Former All-Star “Streetball” Paul Millsap is also headed to Philly in the deal. He gave himself that nickname.
The long-rumored Curry-for-Harden (OK, Simmons-for-Harden) swap reunites The Beard with his old friend from Houston, 76ers team president Daryl Morey. Together, the Rockets put together a sustained run of regular season excellence, and built a team that would lose embarrassingly to the Warriors four times in five years in the playoffs. Harden almost got traded to the Sixers last year for Ben Simmons, after forcing his way out of Houston with a combination of weight gain, disinterested defense, and a cross-country unmasked strip club tour in the middle of a pandemic.
He ended up in Brooklyn instead, alongside Durant and amateur epidemiologist Kyrie Irving to form a Big Three that, due to injuries and New York’s vaccine regulations, only played together in 16 games, a scant 32 minutes this season. It’s possible that last year, Durant decided he did want to be on a super team again after all, and that the game opened up for him when he had a Curry on the perimeter drilling triples - Curry is shooting 40% on three-pointers this season, and has the second-highest career percentage among active players (43.7%).
The other prize headed to the Barclays Center is Ben Simmons, the three-time All-Star who’s one of the league’s most unique and polarizing players. He’s a 6’11” point guard who doesn’t, nay, won’t shoot threes, and developed a phobia of shooting free throws last year in the playoffs, shooting 34% from the line, about the same accuracy as a handcuffed Andris Biedrins. Simmons is also one of the best defenders in the NBA, with three first team All-Defensive selections, and is one of the rare players who truly can guard the 1-5 slots.
Simmons openly wanted out of Philadelphia for a long time, reportedly because his name was in Harden trade rumors last year, and it was accelerated when the Atlanta Hawks upset the top-seeded Sixers in Round Two of the playoffs, in a game where Simmons inexplicably passed up an open dunk in crunch time. After the game, both Coach Doc Rivers and Joel Embiid (mildly) criticized Simmons, and he subsequently refused to report to the team, a stalemate that resulted in fines, mandatory mental health sessions, and a perpetual distraction for Adele’s paramour, Klutch Sport agent Rich Paul.
It’s possible that this deal was already going to come down to the deadline, in order to keep other teams from adjusting to the new landscape, but the move was certainly accelerated by Brooklyn’s recent slide. With Durant still recovering from an MCL sprain, the Nets have dropped nine straight games and fallen to 8th place in the better-than-usual Eastern Conference. In their last game before the deadline, the Boston Celtics trounced them by 35 points, after starting the game on a 28-2 run. Meanwhile Harden reached into his bag of tricks to show his displeasure, doing everything short of missing 27 straight three-pointers in an elimination game to get himself out of town. It’s honestly impressive that without an agent, Harden was able to force a trade in a tenth of the time it took Klutch Sports to get Simmons his freedom.
Simmons immediately moves into his patented hybrid point guard/power forward position for Brooklyn, alongside Blake Griffin in a front court that would sound insane to an NBA fan three years ago. Curry adds more outside shooting alongside Patty Mills for Brooklyn, who still hopes to have Three-Point Contest champ Joe Harris back before the playoffs. And former All-Star Andre Drummond should at least provide a big body and a lot of rebounding for the Nets. Brooklyn also recoups some of the picks they sent away for Harden last year.
Meanwhile Harden teams up with MVP candidate Joel Embiid in a star pairing reminiscent of when Dwight Howard signed with Houston in 2013. The Warriors went hard after Howard that summer, but had to settle for Andre Iguodala and three titles instead. The Beard can opt out of his contract this summer (UPDATE: Harden opted into his deal next year as a condition of the trade), but Philadelphia seems confident they can extend him, though his scoring a three-point shooting have dropped. Maybe that has something to do with the NBA consciously ignoring flops this season?
What does this mean for our beloved Warriors? It means they won’t have to hear about Ben Simmons trade rumors for another five months at least, and that two of the premium Eastern teams have shuffled their rosters, and probably gotten better. It also means that, in the fortunate even that they manage to emerge from the battleground of the Western Conference playoffs, they’ll likely have to deal with...the Milwaukee Bucks.