Ben Simmons for James Harden? Mediocre for mediocre

Who really won the trade, what does this mean for both teams and a nice little James Harden rant


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James Harden and Ben Simmons

Aaron Rigby, Sports Writer

The Ben Simmons saga has finally come to a conclusion after the Sixers traded Ben Simmons, Seth Curry, Andre Drummond and two future first round picks to the Brooklyn Nets in return for James Harden and Paul Millsap on February 10.

Ever since the Sixers were eliminated from the playoffs in the second round last year, mainly due to the lack of aggression and confidence in their star point guard Simmons, it has been hectic behind the scenes and in the locker room. After some passive aggressive interview answers from some teammates and coaches, Simmons has felt thrown under the bus from his so-called “brothers” and asked for a trade in the 2021 offseason.  

But after the Sixers failed to find a trade deal that would be beneficial to both Simmons and the Sixers, many sports journalists and commentators noted a rise in aggressive–even childish–behavior from Simmons, who was accused of trying to force his way out of Philadelphia by not participating in practices and not attending the preseason training camp.  After suffering through months of Simmons Instagram posts of him shooting threes in an empty gym, him out having fun in Los Angeles, rumors of possible trade deals with multiple teams around the league and his struggles with mental health issues due to the fans and media, Philadelphia, as well as their fans, no longer have to deal with it.  

Just three hours prior to the end of the 2021-22 trade deadline, the Sixers traded Simmons in a blockbuster trade package in return for 2018 NBA MVP James Harden. This trade caused NBA social media to go crazy, and debates about who won/benefited the most from the trade. Many fans said the Sixers obviously won the trade, and others say that the Nets won the trade long-term.  

As for me, I personally think that the Brooklyn Nets won the trade overall. It’s not because I’m some Sixers hater, or because I want to have a hot take to get more clicks and attention, but because of the history of James Harden and the playoffs and the unknown of what a possible new Ben Simmons could look like.  

What do I mean by the “history of James Harden”? Everybody knows the superstar that James Harden is. Even when he was the rookie sixth man in Oklahoma City with Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook and went to the finals to battle it out against LeBron James and the big-three Miami Heat, he was an amazing scorer and someone everybody would love to have on their roster as a top scoring option. In his final year in OKC, he averaged 13.5 points a game coming off the bench. The following year, Harden was traded to the Houston Rockets and averaged 13 more points a game, scoring 25.9 points a night in 2013.  He proceeded to lead the Houston Rockets to the playoffs a few years later, but couldn’t manage to get them far enough on his own.

And here is where I begin to have a problem with Harden. He first asked the Rockets to get Dwight Howard so he could have a decent big man who can grab rebounds and dunk with him, so they did so.  That didn’t work out, so a few years later he asked for Chris Paul so he didn’t have to do all of the ball handling, so they did that. That didn’t work either, so he then asked to get his former Thunder teammate Russell Westbrook, who was now a former MVP and triple double king — but that didn’t work either. Harden got tired of being on the Rockets and not getting the job done in the Western Conference, so he asked for and eventually publicly demanded a trade to the Brooklyn Nets, who already had all-star point guard Kyrie Irving and best player in the world Kevin Durant. He would eventually get traded to the Nets, where he had seemingly formed an unguardable super team. 

Unfortunately, a series of injuries prevented the Nets from winning a championship last year, but after Kyrie Irving refused to get vaccinated in a city that required vaccines to play home games, and continuous injuries from Kevin Durant, Harden quickly lost interest and motivation for playing for that team. So, he now he been traded to the Philadelphia 76ers, where he again will not be the number one scoring option, nor the best overall player on the team. And for me, it’s not a matter of “if” but a matter of “when” James Harden is going to get frustrated in Philly. 

For me, it’s not a matter of ‘if’ but a matter of ‘when’ James Harden is going to get frustrated in Philly.  ”

Another problem I have with this trade is the logic behind it.  The Sixers wanted to trade Simmons because of his continuous underperforming in the playoffs.  So, they decided to trade him for another player who has been criticized for repeatedly underperforming in the playoffs. Since the Rockets lost in seven games to the Warriors in 2018, Harden has been criticized for dropping in efficiency and points per game.  In the 2017-18 playoffs, Harden averaged 28.6 points per game, almost two points less than he averaged on the season, which doesn’t sound terrible, but in games that mattered, he would drop the ball, literally and figuratively.

In game two of the first round against the Minnesota Timberwolves, Harden scored an appalling 12 points; 11% shooting from the field, going 2-18 on the floor and 1-10 from three point range. In game five against the Utah Jazz, Harden scored 18 points, shooting 7-22 from the field and 1-7 from three. Fortunately for him, the Rockets won both of these matchups, but in game three of the Western Conference Finals, Harden scored only 20 points, 7-16 from the field and 2-6 from deep, leading the Rockets to a 41 point loss to the Warriors, putting the Rockets down 2-1 in the series.  

The last time we saw Harden in the playoffs was last year with the Nets, where he didn’t play well at all. In game one of the Eastern Conference Finals against the Milwaukee Bucks, Harden got injured 43 seconds into the game. He missed the next three games and returned in game five to try and help the Nets go up 3-2. Though the Nets won the game and did go up 3-2, Harden didn’t really help, contributing only five points in 46 minutes. The Nets went on to lose the series to the Bucks, who went on to become the NBA Champions. 

[In the Ben Simmons/James Harden trade], the Sixers traded Simmons for underperforming in the playoffs for a guy who has also underperformed in big moments in the playoffs.”

The bottom line is, the Sixers traded Simmons for underperforming in the playoffs for a guy who has also underperformed in big moments in the playoffs. I think the Sixers are going to have better short term success, due to the fact that they have already adjusted to playing without Simmons, and the Nets are now going to have to adjust to playing without Harden. But long term, I feel that this trade will further benefit the Nets because once they figure out how to play with each other and utilize Simmons in the lineup, they will be better defensively, which is an aspect of the game that they have been criticized for lacking in. And, nobody knows the future of the vaccine mandates will be in New York, or if Irving will decide to get vaccinated to gain the ability to play both home and away games rather than only away games.  

All in all, I think both teams benefited from this trade in their own ways, and March 10 is a date that all Sixers and Nets fans should have marked on their calendars.