NBA trade grades: Did Sixers or Nets win the Ben Simmons and James Harden trade?

The trade that everyone has been talking about all year has finally gone down, and Ben Simmons is on his way to the Brooklyn Nets. This trade should totally shift the landscape of the NBA. Let’s evaluate it from both sides. 

Sixers-Nets trade details

  • Sixers receive: James Harden, Paul Millsap
  • Nets receive: Ben Simmons, Seth Curry, Andre Drummond, two first-round picks

Sixers grade: A

Sixers president Daryl Morey just taught a clinic in negotiation. Morey had a terrible hand. Everyone in the league knew that Simmons wanted out, and he had to make a trade or else risk wasting a brilliant season by Joel Embiid. 

Somehow, Morey flipped the script, acted like his hand was strong, and got exactly what he wanted. He convinced everyone of his bluff to keep Simmons until the end of the season, maximized leaks towards his advantage, and got $1.50 on the dollar for Simmons. Give this man a book deal. 

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? 

It will be interesting to see how the Sixers will change stylistically as well. They’re a good shooting team, but only 28th in attempts. Losing Curry will sting. But Tyrese Maxey, Tobias Harris, and Embiid are all capable shooters in their starting lineup. 

The Sixers have needed some more juice in their shot creation down the stretch of playoff games, so Harden will certainly help there. There will have to be some balance found between Embiid and Harden, but an overabundance of quality isolation players is certainly a better problem to have than a too-timid Simmons. 

Defensively, Harden’s reputation speaks for itself but teams have managed to mitigate his weaknesses by incorporating heavy switching schemes. The Sixers do have some good switching personnel, including Matisse Thybulle, who can clean up some of Harden’s mistakes. He will also be playing alongside the best defensive big man he’s ever had to clean up mistakes. 

This trade instantly launches an already-good Sixers team into a true championship contender. 

MORE: Full details on every NBA trade deadline deal so far

Nets grade: A

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. 

Simmons at least gives them a chance. He finished second in Defensive Player of the Year voting, and the Nets’ biggest problems have been on that end of the floor. They’re ranked 20th in defense, which simply gives them no avenue to compete for a title. No team has won an NBA championship in the last decade finishing worse than 11th. 

The Nets run a switch-heavy defense, and Simmons should fit in extremely well there. He is one of the very few players who can legitimately guard every position and might be the most versatile defender in the league. The Nets have badly been missing a strong point of attack defender, and Simmons excels there too. 

The offensive fit will be a little messier. Simmons works the best with the ball in his hands, but coach Steve Nash wants to play a more free-flowing approach and the Nets already have better facilitators than Simmons on the roster in Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant. He will have to play mostly in the dunker spot, where he can catch dump-off passes for layups. 

One area where Simmons for sure can help the Nets offensively is in transition. They’re ranked 27th in points added, via Cleaning the Glass. He is perhaps at his best as a grab-and-go point forward on fast breaks. He can also carry lineups when Durant needs a breather or when Irving misses home games. 

Curry is also hugely important in this deal. The Nets have been badly missing Joe Harris, whose complications from his ankle injury make his return date uncertain. Curry has had a fantastic year, shooting the ball well from every spot in the court. He will give the Nets the Harris replacement that they’ve needed.

Drummond is a serviceable big man. He’s had a decent year and can provide some size and rebounding. 

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