The Nets traded James Harden, a former Most Valuable Player Award winner, to the Philadelphia 76ers on Thursday for a package centered on Ben Simmons, the three-time All-Star point guard who has not played this season for personal reasons.
“The decision to trade James was a difficult one,” Nets General Manager Sean Marks said in a statement, “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.”
The stunning trade brings about a sudden and unexpected end to the superstar grouping of Kyrie Irving, Kevin Durant and Harden, who were, on paper, leading one of the most talented N.B.A. teams ever. But the three stars had rarely played together — only 16 games — since Harden was acquired from Houston in a trade last season, in part because of injuries and in part because of Irving’s refusal to be vaccinated against Covid-19, which has made him ineligible to play in home games in Brooklyn. The Nets had also barred Irving from road games and practices until mid-December.
The Nets will also receive Seth Curry, a sharpshooting guard; Andre Drummond, a backup center and one of the best rebounders in N.B.A. history; and two first-round picks. The Nets are also trading Paul Millsap, a four-time All-Star forward who hasn’t played much this season.
“I’m excited for our team,” Durant said in an interview Thursday on TNT. “Looking forward to finishing the season out with this new group and these new players.”
He added: “I think everybody got what they wanted.”
Simmons has yet to take the floor for the 32-22 Sixers this season. Coach Doc Rivers and the All-Star center Joel Embiid criticized Simmons after a poor showing in last season’s second-round playoff series against the Atlanta Hawks. In November, Simmons’s agent, Rich Paul, told The Athletic that the tension had taken a toll on Simmons’s mental health, and that he wasn’t ready to play basketball.
If he is able to play now, the Nets could use him. They have been in a free fall, losing their 10th straight game on Thursday against Washington — standing at eighth place in the Eastern Conference even before the defeat. Durant hasn’t played since Jan. 15 because of a knee injury, and said on TNT that there was no timetable for his return but he was “doing better, for sure.” Harden had been out with a hamstring injury since Feb. 2, when he turned in a listless 4-point performance in a loss to the Sacramento Kings. Irving has appeared in only 13 of the Nets’ 55 games.
The trade will reunite Harden with Daryl Morey, the president of basketball operations for Philadelphia. They last worked together in Houston, where Morey was the general manager. Morey resigned from the Rockets on Nov. 1, 2020, and joined the 76ers one day later. Houston traded Harden to the Nets in January 2021.
After finishing the regular season in first place in the Eastern Conference last year, the 76ers are now in fifth place in the conference, three games behind Miami.
Because Simmons hadn’t played yet, trade speculation has been constant. As that intensified in the past few days, the 76ers lost three out of their last four games. To give his team a break, Rivers canceled practice on Thursday.
“It was just so much stuff going on,” Rivers told reporters. “So many rumors. I just thought the human thing to do, instead of the coaching thing, was just be very straightforward with our guys. Tell them I get it.”
Although Philadelphia has so far not been among the league’s elite this season, the team has reason for optimism.
The Sixers still have one of the best players in the league in Embiid, who leads the league in points per game with 29.4, and ranks ninth with 10.9 rebounds per game.
The second-year guard Tyrese Maxey has also played well in his extensive minutes — he’s led the 76ers in minutes per game this season, and averaged 16.9 points per game. He will be part of the league’s game for the top first- and second-year players at All-Star Weekend next week.
Evan Easterling contributed reporting.