The Houston Rockets have officially dealt James Harden to the Brooklyn Nets in a blockbuster four-team exchange (Indiana and Cleveland) for a package surrounding Victor Oladipo and future picks.
While momentum was building in the late morning/early afternoon for a trade to the Sixers—who had been long assumed to be a favorite—no such deal came to fruition, with the Sixers reportedly unwilling to add young assets on top of the steep price of 24-year old Ben Simmons.
Ultimately, it was the right decision.
Given Harden’s accolades—former league MVP, 3 X Scoring Champ, and 7 X All-NBA First-teamer—the argument against trading Simmons for him wasn’t exactly obvious. After all, Harden is an undoubtably better offensive fit with Joel Embiid than Simmons is or ever will be.
That being said, a decorated resume and a more natural offensive fit is pretty much where the “pro” arguments ended.
In any sort of swap of Simmons for Harden the Sixers would’ve been depreciably worse on defense—a team that was already thin on the wing would’ve lost the best perimeter defender in the league. To boot, having a 6’10” point guard averaging close to nine rebounds per game has given the Sixers a built-in edge on the glass for Simmons’ entire tenure—good enough to rank 1st in the NBA in team rebounding rate over the past three seasons combined (by a wide margin, too).
The Sixers strengths on defense and on the glass have been a constant over three plus seasons—and to be clear, they would continue to be a constant even without Ben—but the team would’ve been noticeably worse in both regards. The debate around this trade came down to whether or not that sacrifice would’ve been worth the offensive boon that Harden would’ve provided; and truthfully, if you paid much attention to the team’s 7-0 start (in games where both Embiid & Simmons played) the answer to that question was obvious.
Beyond on-court concerns, trading 24-year old Simmons for 31-year old James Harden would’ve shortened the Sixers championship window by at least seven years. Simmons is going to age like fine wine and Harden is getting thicker by the meal—it’s fair to wonder if he even has four years of high-level play left in the tank.
On top of that, we’re only hoping that Embiid has four years on top of this one—only a fool would assume a player like him will be relevant past the age of 30-32. I’ll bank on Simmons as an All-Star player (at least) for the next decade. These are all things that needed to be considered with this trade, and Morey was aware of all of this.
You can talk about whatever hypothetical regrets the Sixers might one day have for not pouncing on this opportunity, but any such scenarios pale in comparison to the potential downside of letting an elite talent under the age of 25 go for a player on the downswing of their prime—this point can’t be stressed enough.
Remember, there are still strip clubs in Philly, and any jokes about Harden subsidizing said industry with his late night habits wouldn’t have been funny when he started causing the same problems here that he did in Houston. In fact, a city like Philly would’ve only amplified those problems more.
None of this is to say I would’ve disapproved of a Simmons-for-Harden trade—the Sixers would’ve added the best scorer in NBA history, and only a fool would actively disparage a deal for that caliber of player. But that isn’t to say there weren’t major concerns here, and I’m glad Morey understood them.