James Harden got his wish Thursday, as the Brooklyn Nets reportedly agreed to trade the star guard to the Philadelphia 76ers for Ben Simmons, Seth Curry, Andre Drummond, and two first-round picks, according to multiple reports.
The simple analysis of the deal is that both teams made the best of their situation. Daryl Morey's patience with Simmons' trade demand paid off, as he ended up getting the player he coveted all along in Harden. With Joel Embiid playing at an MVP level and the 76ers being just 2.5 games out of first place in the Eastern Conference, Philadelphia needed to make a move to allow them to maximize this Embiid season. Getting Harden, who will create a dangerous pick-and-roll combination with Embiid, does just that.
For Brooklyn, they get a stud defender in Simmons who can run the offense when Kyrie Irving isn't allowed to play, a knockdown shooter in Curry, and a big man in Drummond who played well as Embiid's backup this season. With Harden reportedly planning to leave Brooklyn this summer in free agency, the Nets did well to turn the 32-year-old into multiple pieces to help Kevin Durant and Irving win a title this season.
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In short, it was a win-win for both teams, and the top of the Eastern Conference should be a bloodbath come playoff time.
This seismic move also positions the 76ers -- and Nets, for that matter -- as two teams who would present real issues for the Warriors in any potential NBA Finals matchup.
Embiid has been an absolute monster this season, averaging 29.4 points and 10.9 rebounds per game while shooting 49.8 percent from the floor and 35.8 percent from 3-point range. Pairing Embiid with Harden, a dynamic scorer and underrated creator, gives the 76ers a 1-2 punch that can give the Warriors problems.
Right now, the Warriors only have one healthy center in Kevon Looney. Even if they enter the playoffs at full strength, could a big-man rotation of Looney, second-year center James Wiseman, and Draymond Green hold up against Embiid? Green is one of the best defenders in the NBA, but asking him to bang with and slow down Embiid in a seven-game series is asking a lot of the 6-foot-6 forward.
Golden State Warriors
The Warriors will have a lot of defenders to throw at Harden with Andrew Wiggins, Gary Payton II, Klay Thompson, and Andre Iguodala all likely seeing time on star guard. While the Warriors' wing depth is a bonus, Wiggins and Payton have never played in the NBA Finals, Thompson just returned from a two-and-a-half-year absence, and Iguodala, 38, has battled a myriad of injuries all season.
The 76ers also have a terrific on-ball defender in Matisse Thybulle and a solid third-scoring option in Tobias Harris.
Any potential matchup with the 76ers would boil down to how the Warriors' frontline can hold up against Embiid, if Golden State can hold its own on the glass and how the 76ers' defense holds up against Steph Curry and the Warriors' potent ball-movement offense.
Styles make fights, and a Warriors-76ers Finals would be a heavyweight bout destined to go the distance.
While losing Harden after he, Durant and Irving played in only a handful of games together is a tough blow, Brooklyn is still well-positioned for a Finals run once Durant returns from his MCL injury.
With Simmons, the Nets have an all-NBA defender who can make Steph Curry work hard for his looks. Despite Simmons' past playoff failures in Philadelphia, playing alongside Durant and Irving should help unlock his offensive game. The Nets could play a small-ball lineup with Simmons at the five surrounded by Durant, Irving, Seth Curry, and Joe Harris -- assuming he returns from an ankle injury -- or Patty Mills. Simmons screening for Irving and Durant will create matchup issues for defenses, and the 6-foot-11 guard should be able to dice defenses up off-ball.
A Nets-Warriors Finals matchup would end up being a small-ball slugfest, with both teams being able to play their preferred lineups. No one on the planet can stop a healthy Durant, but the Warriors at least have the length that can make life tougher on the two-time NBA Finals MVP. Adding Seth Curry gives the Nets two knockdown shooters to put around Durant, Irving, and Simmons, forcing defenses to either gamble by leaving Seth Curry, Harris/Mills or Simmons (likely) to double Durant or let the most-talented scorer in NBA history go one-on-one and get to whatever spot he chooses.
Where the 76ers-Warriors Finals would boil down to which team can force their will on the other, a Nets matchup would be a haymaker fest with Curry and Durant, two top-10 players of all time and former teammates, trading blows with the Larry O'Brien Trophy on the line.
Should the Warriors make it out of the Western Conference, there's a good chance they'll face one of the two teams involved in Thursday's blockbuster in the title round (or the defending champion Bucks, don't yell at me). And both teams will present challenges after getting stronger by swapping their disgruntled stars.