Sharpshooter Seth Curry will join Simmons in Brooklyn, while the 76ers receive veteran forward Paul Millsap in return.
The move, which had been mooted all week, came right before the league’s trade deadline, ending one of the ugliest stand-offs in NBA history.
As you may remember, Simmons, who infamously flamed out in last year’s Eastern Conference semi-finals against the Atlanta Hawks, requested a trade during the off-season.
When that didn’t arise due to the Sixers reportedly driving a hard bargain for his services, Simmons refused to suit up for the team. He was then thrown out of practice by coach Doc Rivers, before sitting out indefinitely citing mental health reasons. The Sixers responded by fining him, with the Aussie reportedly giving up over $26 million in salary so far this season.
Simmons also reportedly holds grudges against teammate, Joel Embiid and coach Rivers for throwing him under the bus after the Sixers’ loss to the Hawks. Embiid specifically sited Simmons’ passing up of an open dunk as the turning point in game 7.
In an ESPN story last week, it was reported that Simmons was angry that Embiid singled him out when he had not blamed Embiid for the centre’s poor showing against the Raptors in the 2019 Eastern Conference semis.
Many will now wonder if Simmons’ mental health problems miraculously disappear now that he’s been traded. Philadelphia’s notoriously rabid fanbase was also likely a factor in Simmons’ reluctance to play. Maybe without the spotlight and scrutiny he would have received in Philly, a fresh start in Brooklyn is exactly what the young star needs. Nevertheless, the Nets v Sixers clash on March 10 in Philly looms large. It will be interesting to see if Simmons takes the floor. If so, look out.
So, who won the trade? The answer is probably Sixers GM Daryl Morey. From the outset, the notoriously star-hunting Morey made it clear he wanted a superstar in return for Simmons, his eyes set on either Harden, Blazers’ guard Damian Lillard or Bradley Beal. In the end he got Harden who he’d wanted all along. A Harden-for-Simmons trade with the Houston Rockets almost materialised this time last year – Simmons reportedly looking at houses in Houston right before last year’s deadline.
The Nets are an ideal fit for the enigmatic Simmons. Alongside KD and Kyrie Irving (when he actually plays), he won’t have the pressure on him to shoot. He can focus on finding his teammates for open looks and getting downhill in transition, where he’s a monster. He’ll also help shore up the Nets’ defence. The Aussie finished second to Rudy Gobert in last year’s Defensive Player of the Year award. With the ability to guard all five positions, Simmons gives the Nets a defensive identity the team has been lacking. Will he shoot? Probably not. The point is, he won’t have to.
Curry, who’s been having a breakout season with the Sixers, averaging 15 points and 4 assists a game, 40 per cent from three, will also bolster the Nets, who’ve missed the shooting presence of Joe Harris this year.
Harden doesn’t look like the player he once was, gaining weight and being plagued by hamstring injuries. New league rules on drawing fouls haven’t helped him, either. He’s appeared to lack burst, unable to blow by defenders as he once could. Yet he is a former MVP and his stats this season – 22, 8, 10 – would flatter just about anyone not named LeBron or Luka.
Perhaps the best part of all this for Aussie fans is that Simmons joins Patty Mills in Brooklyn. Perhaps the duo can form a ‘Boomers East’ identity. And hopefully some of Mills’ renowned competitive drive, humility and team-first mentality might rub off on Simmons. If that happens then perhaps the league’s most confounding star can finally reach his potential.