• Benjamin Gerstel

Potential trades with frustrated Superstars before the end of the NBA trade deadline

Recently, James Harden has been the face of a ton of rumors. He’s been the centerpiece of a blockbuster deal, between two teams looking to make a leap in the East. Brooklyn seems to be collapsing from within, as Harden seems to be fed up with Kyrie’s vaccine status, and the team’s need for him to be “the go-to option on offense sometimes. Furthermore, his effort on the court seems to be questionable, which was on display during their most recent game against (a De’Aaron Fox-less) Sacramento. Philadelphia has been frustrated with Ben Simmons, who is under contract, yet he continues to not play. His attitude and love for the game has always been a question mark, and he also had a rift with his MVP-caliber teammate, Joel Embiid. Both teams have dealt with these issues for a while now, so they are negotiating a trade that fits both sides.

Brooklyn is understandably upset with Harden, who is having his worst season offensively since 2011-2012. His performance has been bad, but his effort has been even worse this season. Whether it’s the totality of his injuries, him not liking Steve Nash (or Brooklyn in general), Kyrie’s vaccine status, or something else, it’s clear that something is off with him. Especially in his last game against the Sacramento Kings. In the first quarter alone, Harden had some inexcusable plays, including back to back possessions early in the first quarter. The first time, he got caught in a screen, while his man moved to the wing. Harden stood lifeless at the stop of the key, instead of closing out. Like the next possession, his man obviously hit the wide open three.

The next one, Harden had a jaw-dropping lazy closeout, where he flailed his arm with zero intention of impacting the shooter. He was already so far away, making his existence irrelevant at that point. Maurice Harkless knocked down the wide-open three as a result. In this league, the top players bring it every single night and Harden did not do that against Sacramento. Hopefully, this poor play is simply a result of his age hindering the recovery of his injury, but Nets fans have also seen Harden give more effort in the playoffs injured as well. He did this throughout the game, even during the fourth quarter when the Nets were within single-digits. It’s understandable he’s frustrated with Kyrie, but at least Kyrie gives unquestionable effort on both sides of the floor when he does play. It’s also a weak move that Harden doesn’t want to be the main guy, when the legendary Kevin Durant will return at some point. KD hasn’t even been out for that long and should return sometime in February after the All-star break.

James Harden and Kyrie are certainly the main people at fault, but throughout all of this drama, another question should be asked as well. What has Steve Nash been doing to better this situation? Obviously things like the Kevin Durant injury are out of his control, but when the effort looks this bad on the floor, someone needs to put their foot down. I believe a guy like Kenny Atkinson (who deserved a chance with this Nets roster anyways), would’ve put his foot down and at least attempted to get things right. We saw just how undisciplined the Nets were against Phoenix, when you put them on the floor with a real championship contender. The way Monty Williams has his team on lock is nothing like Steve Nash and Brooklyn. They’re a mess right now. To be fair, Nash never signed up for any of this, including a pandemic, but the team is obviously not in-sync right now. It was evident in the Sacramento game, and versus Phoenix in the previous one. It’s up to Nash to bring out the best in his players, and that isn’t happening with Harden.

While all hope seems lost in Brooklyn, there are some bright spots. Cam Thomas (who dropped 30 last night), and Kessler Edwards (38.9% from three) have been absolute steals for Sean Marks in the draft. Cam Thomas is a pure bucket, who gives Brooklyn offensive juice off the bench. Edwards is a stretch-four, who has looked extremely confident from three point range and has a fantastic feel for the game. Out of LSU, Thomas was the 27th overall pick of last year’s first round, while Edwards (Pepperdine), was a late second-rounder. Those two players, along with Patty Mills (a bargain at $12 million) and more have been positives for Brooklyn, whether or not they complete their ultimate goal. Considering the prices Brooklyn got them at, they’re diamonds in the rough. Kevin Durant is also coming back, arguably the greatest offensive player of all time, and that will do wonders for Brooklyn and their troubles.

As for Philadelphia, Ben Simmons has refused to play for them, after major rifts with the fan base and star counterpart, Joel Embiid. Philadelphia fans haven’t forgiven Simmons since he passed open that wide-open dunk in the playoffs last year. They burned his jersey and scrutinized him online, for his shooting, as well as his confidence and work ethic. Even Shaq has recently called out his fellow LSU alumni, for the way he has been acting throughout this whole situation. Embiid has also voiced his frustrations with Ben Simmons, making this situation nearly unfixable at this point. Obviously Ben is at fault for not improving on his shooting and for making the choice to not play, but Embiid blaming Simmons for the playoffs loss doesn’t help either. While the Harden situation is developing currently, and filled with tons of rumors and uncertainty, we know Ben Simmons will not play for Philly at all this season. Brooklyn’s only question, if nothing happens at the deadline, is which Harden they’re actually gonna get.

What makes things difficult for both sides, is the fact that Harden is due $47.4 million next year, and that people expect him to walk by the summer anyways. If that’s the case, it would be more beneficial for Philadelphia to wait and try to sign him, than it would be to give up extra assets in a trade. As for Brooklyn, any reluctance on their part likely stems from feeling like they aren’t receiving enough. It’s clear that Ben Simmons and James Harden would be swapped, but the other pieces will be crucial down the stretch as well. Especially in Brooklyn’s case where players are out all the time, some of these assets may get more than 20 minutes a game, or even starting minutes.

Either way, it leaves a sour taste in the mouth of a fanbase who recently lost fan-favorites such as Jarrett Allen and Caris LeVert. Last night, while Harden was trending everywhere, Allen dropped a masterful 29 points and 22 rebounds, while Caris LeVert had a casual 43 point night, along with 5 rebounds and 8 assists. They’ve been killing it all season and will be all-stars eventually. Brooklyn initially gave up Rodions Kurucs, Taurean Prince, Caris LeVert, Jarrett Allen and three first round picks (2022, 2024, and 2026), on top of four first round pick swaps in their pursuit of James Harden. If this is the end of James Harden’s tenure in Brooklyn, it’s hard to believe that giving up all of those first round picks, as well as LeVert and Allen was worth it.

Brooklyn sits right behind Philadelphia, at sixth place in the Eastern Conference. Philadelphia and Brooklyn were preseason favorites to win the Eastern Conference, so both of them being out of the top three is certainly unexpected. Both teams have their issues on and off the court, and they are clearly making an attempt to improve things. I would assume that nothing happens, based on Woj’s most recent report tonight. He shined some more light on the issue, explaining that Harden has told KD, as well as Marks and Tsai that he wants to be in Brooklyn. He also stated that any sort of move is unlikely to happen before the deadline, showing that a lot of stuff is probably just noise. We’ll see in five days whether anything actually comes into fruition. If nothing happens then, Harden will remain in Brooklyn until his contract is up at the end of the season.

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