Why moving him to Philadelphia now makes sense
Aside from the possibility of the Nets getting an extra player and draft pick compensation in a potential trade, the Harden-for-Simmons trade itself has many benefits for them. For starters, the Nets dramatically improve their defense. That’s been the league average all season, but they’ve had one of the worst defensive ratings since the new year. What better way to swing the pendulum than to add arguably the best perimeter defenseman in the league?
One of the problems with trading for Simmons is that his inability to shoot requires a roster with enough shooters to put around him. The Nets can adapt to this because when they are at full health and available, they have more than enough offensive weaponry. Have two elite scorers in Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving puts Simmons in position to land the ball. Simmons can also handle the ball well enough to occasionally relieve other All-Stars. A frontcourt of Simmons and Durant can allow the Nets to roll some of the best small-ball formations in the league. There’s a lot of optimism that Simmons would be a great basketball player in Brooklyn.
Simmons is also only 25 and likely still has room to improve. He is earning $33 million this season and is expected to earn $35.5 million, $37.9 million and $40.3 million over the next three seasons. This contract could project to have a more positive value than Harden, potentially earning $55 million a year. Savings can open many opportunities for Brooklyn.
For example, a trade where Brooklyn takes over Simmons and an extra salary filler like Maxey for Harden and a veteran’s minimum wage would save them nearly $60 million in payroll savings and luxury taxes. They could also generate a trade exception worth $11.3 million, the difference between Harden’s and Simmons’ salaries. The Nets currently have $11.45 million and $6.3 million in trade exceptions that may not be used due to the team’s current cost. They might become motivated to use their business exceptions after saving so much money.
For Philadelphia, Embiid and Harden have the potential to form one of the most dangerous pick-and-roll partnerships in the league. The idea that Harden could unlock more of Embiid offensively is scary. More importantly, the Sixers are getting a ball-dominating guard who will be their top perimeter scorer in late-game situations. The Sixers could be considered the favorites to come out of the East this season.
What the Sixers need to figure out is how much more are they willing to give the Nets besides Simmons. A deal where the Sixers simply include the necessary $2.4 million salary padding on top of Simmons to match Harden seems justifiable enough on both sides given each player’s likely tractor. But with Simmons on strike and comfortably losing nearly $20 million already this season for not playing, the Nets should have a little more leverage in this situation despite Harden’s desire to be a Sixer.
Maxey could be the linchpin of the negotiations. Brooklyn would probably like a young backcourt talent like him to replace Harden and be Irving’s insurance. They might ask Thybulle if they want some extra defensive help, but filling their backcourt might be more pressing. Curry appears to be the middle ground besides draft compensation, but that appears to be a package that could be available in the offseason. Demanding at least one from Maxey or Thybulle could be the motivation for Brooklyn to trade Harden now.
The idea of paying Harden his max extension amount is what starts to make this look like a risky acquisition at the back. That rings especially true five years from now, as Harden earns nearly $62 million at age 37. Of course, Harden’s style may well translate and evolve in positive ways as he ages. Look about to turn 37 Chris Paul. But it’s also possible we’ll see this again as the Sixers did the Nets a favor. For the Sixers, the race to win a title against a potentially rapidly depreciating contract would begin immediately.