US basketball

Why the Harden-Embiid duo may just work for the Sixers

Naveen Ganglani
Why the Harden-Embiid duo may just work for the Sixers

ONE-TWO PUNCH. Joel Embiid (left) and James Harden form the league's latest dynamic duo.


As challenging as the James Harden-Joel Embiid fit might be, in theory, it’s already better than the clunky fit the Sixers star had with Ben Simmons

MANILA, Philippines – The blockbuster trade finally happened. 

Following weeks of discussions about a possible swap featuring All-Star James Harden and the talented but controversial Ben Simmons, the Brooklyn Nets and Philadelphia 76ers, two teams in the mix of what’s been a tightly contested Eastern Conference this NBA season, finally came to an agreement that will have both players shift teams and likely shift the power structure of the league.

Reported a little under two hours before the trade deadline, the Nets will send Harden, who reportedly wanted out of Brooklyn, along with veteran Paul Millsap to Philadelphia for Simmons, who hasn’t played a game for the 76ers this season, in addition to backup big Andre Drummond, shooter Seth Curry, and two first-round draft picks, one of them unprotected.

At face value, this trade helps both teams with their ambitions. 

Simmons’ relationship with Philly turned and stayed sour following the 76ers’ collapse against Atlanta in last season’s Eastern Conference Finals, compounded by comments made by his co-star Joel Embiid and head coach Doc Rivers following the Game 7 defeat where Simmons passed up a wide-open dunk during a crucial stretch in the fourth quarter.

Harden, who’s faced questions about his fitness and commitment to Brooklyn this season, will reunite with Philly president of basketball operations Daryl Morey, who once snagged Harden via trade from Oklahoma City to Houston in 2012 and once again accomplishes that on the opposite coast.

In Harden and Embiid, Philadelphia has a one-two punch that’s up to par with any other team’s dynamic duo in the NBA. That Morey completed this deal without surrendering sophomore sensation Tyrese Maxey, stretch PF Tobias Harris, or defensive stopper Mathyse Thybulle should be considered a win from the 76ers’ perspective.

Harden has historically operated best with a pick-and-roll savvy, rim-running big man such as a Clint Capela. Embiid, who’s been a legitimate MVP candidate the past two seasons, works best when he’s in isolation or creating for himself or teammates from the post. Both standouts are high-usage players. Conventional wisdom says that it will require a “getting-to-know-each-other” stage before the duo work harmoniously on the basketball court.

But if they do figure it out – and chances are they will – it will be an exciting sight for the Philly faithful and a worrying one for the 76ers’ rivals. Philadelphia is 32-22, just 2.5 games back of the one seed in its conference, which is definitively a realistic target for their team now that Harden is in the mix. 

The arrival of the former MVP helps Philly with its more important goal – to contend for an NBA title. As challenging as the Harden-Embiid fit might be, in theory, it’s already better than the clunky fit Embiid had with Simmons, who not only did not know how to shoot the basketball out of the paint but flat-out wouldn’t even try to do so. 

Harden also reportedly plans to opt-in for the final year of his contract with the 76ers following this season rather than becoming a free agent.

Simmons, meanwhile, seems like an ideal fit in Brooklyn next to bonafide perimeter scorers Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving. 

Given that he hasn’t played a game the entire season – in one of the most outlandish displays of a star player by an NBA player who demanded to be traded – it will take a while for Simmons to get back to peak NBA condition. Once he does, Brooklyn also attains an ace defensive stopper, a brilliant transition weapon, and top-notch passer. 

Attaining Curry gives Brooklyn coach Steve Nash another sniper to pair or stagger with Patty Mills, which is integral given that Irving is still not allowed to play home games unless the Nets pay a fine, which they might be willing to do come playoff time, or not have to worry about altogether assuming New York changes its state laws. 

Drummond provides the Nets with depth at a position they’ve looked weak at times this season, which will be key given the number of perennial big men they could face in the playoffs.

Brooklyn’s defense has relied on switching for the most part of the last two seasons and Simmons should fit in seamlessly with that method, making it easier for the Nets to go with a smaller lineup against the elite opponents on their conference. 

On the other hand, defense is a question the 76ers will have to face with Harden, who’s been a poor defender this season. Does he try harder now he’s in a team he prefers to be in? Perhaps. It’s also mandatory. The 76ers don’t switch on defense as often as Brooklyn does, which means Harden will have to fight over a lot of screens while Embiid drops. 

The Nets are currently on a 10-game losing streak and in the play-in picture with a disappointing 29-26 record. They don’t need to make up a lot of ground to be back in the hunt for homecourt in the postseason, although given how competitive the East has been this season, time is of the essence.

With regards to other notable trades, the Dallas Mavericks dealt Kristaps Porzingis to the restructuring Washington Wizards for Spencer Dinwiddie and Davis Bertans. 

This gives Luka Doncic another ball-handler to lessen his load and provides Dallas a backup plan in case the Mavs lose breakout player Jalen Brunson to free agency. Dinwiddie, however, hasn’t been effective this season, which Dallas will need to change if they want to make the conference semis for the first time in the Doncic era.

The Wizards also traded Montrezl Harrell to Charlotte for Ish Smith and Vernon Carey while also sending Aaron Holiday to Phoenix, who strengthened their bench depth when also accounting for the reacquisition of Torrey Craig.

The Boston Celtics, who have quietly been on a tear the last few weeks, traded Josh Richardson and Romeo Langford to the San Antonio Spurs for Derrick White, who will likely play a lot of minutes since the Celtics also traded Dennis Schroder to Houston. 

The Spurs also dealt for Goran Dragic by sending Thaddeus Young to the Toronto Raptors. Dragic, the former Miami Heat All-Star, is expected to be bought out by San Antonio and sign with Dallas.

The first deal in the final hours leading up to the trade deadline involved four teams: the defending champion Milwaukee Bucks sent Donte DiVencenzo to Sacramento, who sent Marvin Bagley to Detroit. Milwaukee acquired Serge Ibaka to shore up its frontline. Other players involved in the deal were Semi Ojele and Rodney Hood to the Clippers and Josh Jackson plus Trey Lyles to the Kings.

The Lakers and Knicks – two teams who have struggled this season – did not make any trades. More player movement is expected to take place when signing players from the buy-out market begins. –