WASHINGTON — Wave goodbye to the Big 3. Say hello to the Big 2 and change.
The Nets traded disgruntled All-Star James Harden and Paul Millsap to the Philadelphia 76ers on Thursday for Ben Simmons, Seth Curry, Andre Drummond and two first-round picks. The Nets will get the 76ers’ unprotected 2022 first-round pick and a protected 2027 first-round pick.
"We are excited to incorporate these guys into our group," Steve Nash said. "I think they fill needs for us. It should be an exciting time for us to reset and rebuild and to hopefully put together a really competitive and terrific team in a short period of time here."
The faster the better for the Nets (29-26), who dropped their 10th straight game Thursday night in Washington, 113-112. They have plummeted from first place to eighth place in the Eastern Conference in less than a month.
Nets general manager Sean Marks said in a statement, "The decision to trade James was a difficult one, however after recent discussions with him and his representatives we felt that this move would be best for all involved, as it better positions us to achieve our goals this season and in the years ahead."
"I love the pieces that we got," Blake Griffin said. "I think we got better and we are excited to get those guys and move forward."
The Harden era lasted slightly less than 13 months and featured a second-round playoff exit last spring.
When the Nets acquired Harden from the Rockets last January to play with All-Stars Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant, the team on paper had the potential to win multiple championships.
The Big 3 often looked unstoppable when they played together. The problem was that they rarely did, thanks to multiple injuries and Irving’s vaccination status. The Nets were 13-3 when all three were available.
Harden declined to sign a contract extension with the Nets before the season and is eligible to become a free agent this summer. There were signs that he was becoming increasingly upset that Irving could not play full-time, creating a situation in which Harden had to play heavy minutes.
After the Nets demolished Chicago last month in the last appearance of the Big 3 together, Harden was asked if he wished Irving could play full-time and responded: "I’m going to give him the shot."
Instead, Harden gave the team a wave goodbye as he heads to Philadelphia. He will be reunited with 76ers president of operations Daryl Morey, who traded for him in Houston and also tried to bring him to Philadelphia last season before the Nets acquired him. Harden has a nagging hamstring injury and missed the Nets’ last three games before the trade.
It marked the second time in 13 months that the former MVP has forced his way out of a team. He also was unhappy in Houston when the Nets traded for him. In that trade, which involved four teams, the Nets dealt Caris Le-Vert, Jarrett Allen and three first-round picks. The Rockets also were given the option of swapping four other first-round picks with the Nets.
Said Nash, "I think it’s positive for everyone to have the deadline pass so there’s no more stuff hanging over everyone’s head or everyone wondering what’s going to happen. I think there’s a finality to it that helps everyone move forward."
Adding Harden to a team with Joel Embiid makes the 76ers instant championship contenders. Though any team with Durant has a shot of going deep in the playoffs, the loss of Harden makes the Nets less of an immediate title contender.
It is possible that the Nets may have merely swapped one unhappy player for another. Simmons has not played this season after requesting a trade from the 76ers during the offseason. He reportedly didn’t feel supported by the 76ers’ staff after a subpar performance in last season’s playoffs. Earlier this season, he said he was not mentally ready to play for Philadelphia.
On the plus side, a change of scenery may be just what Simmons needs. At age 25, he is seven years younger than Harden, which in theory extends the window of their title chances. He also gives the Nets someone to run their offense when Irving is not able to play because of his vaccination status.
The addition of Curry brings outside shooting that the Nets have been missing since Joe Harris went down early in the season with an ankle injury. Drummond, who has had four games of at least 20 rebounds this season, gives the Nets some much-needed help on the boards.
First-round picks in 2022 (unprotected) and 2027 (protected)
At 6-11, Simmons is an elite defender who can guard all five positions and the opposing team’s best offensive player, taking that burden away from Kevin Durant. He has point guard skills and vision, which will benefit Durant and the Nets’ shooters. Simmons has never been a good shooter but won’t be relied to score a ton of points with the Nets.
Averaging a career-high 15 points per game and is 43.7% shooting from the three-point line. With Joe Harris still out and the Nets 24th in the NBA in made three-pointers per game, Curry provides another shooter on the court.
The Nets have struggled at times this season with rebounding. Drummond is averaging 8.8 rebounds per game, mostly off the bench for the 76ers. He’s had four games of 20 or more rebounds this season. Drummond will give the Nets rebounding and rim protection.