After what felt like decades of rumors and speculation (in reality it’s been like a week since this sounded like it could actually happen by the deadline), the Philadelphia 76ers and Brooklyn Nets consummated the James Harden-Ben Simmons trade.
Philly general manager Daryl Morey gets his wish of reuniting with his former Houston buddy, while Brooklyn gets a defensive-minded 6-foot-11 point guard to help balance its roster.
Maybe most importantly, though, both franchises (and us) finally get to move on from the soap operas.
Now that Harden is gone and Simmons — along with Andre Drummond and Seth Curry — join the Nets’ roster, what could Brooklyn’s starting lineup and rotation look like moving forward?
Everyone can go back to their normal lives now that the James Harden-for-Ben Simmons trade is official
Simmons and the Sixers get to move on from an eight-month saga, while Harden and the Nets get to move on from a week-long (ish) saga. Although, in fairness to Ben, most of his drama ended shortly after the season started and he
quit on left his team. Harden, on the other hand, waited for his time to come and then threw months of drama at Brooklyn in the span of a few days.
Regardless, the official deal looks like this, according to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski:
Brooklyn receives: Ben Simmons, Seth Curry, Andre Drummond, an unprotected 2022 first-round pick, and a protected 2027 first-round pick
Philadelphia receives: James Harden
The Sixers are incorporating one of the best scorers in NBA history into their roster. He’ll immediately join the starting lineup and has a legitimate chance to play the most minutes for Philly down the stretch.
It gets a bit more complicated for the Brooklyn Nets roster, which is losing one player and bringing back three, all of whom have arguments to start.
Projecting Brooklyn’s new starting lineup
The Nets’ starting group was complicated before Harden left. Kyrie Irving remains a part-time player, only taking the floor for road games due to his vaccination status.
Kevin Durant is currently out with a sprained left MCL and will likely remain so, at least through February. Joe Harris has been a shoo-in starter the last year and a half, but he’s likely out for the season with his own injury.
The Brooklyn lineup that’s played the most minutes together this season consists of Durant, Harden, Harris, Blake Griffin, and Bruce Brown. The lineup that’s played the most games together is LaMarcus Aldridge, Durant, Harden, Patty Mills, and De’Andre Bembry.
Three of the players in each of those lineups can be counted out, at least until Aldridge (also injured) and Durant return. Simmons will take one of those spots.
So this quandary has to be looked at in three ways — what does the full-strength starting lineup look like, what will it look like right now when Simmons joins, and what does it look like with/without Kyrie depending on where that night’s game is played?
Scenario one: When the Nets have all their key pieces and are on the road, Simmons, Durant, and Irving are surefire starters. Curry is likely to join the starting lineup as well.
Mills is the perfect sixth man and should come off the bench when Kyrie is available, so the final starting spot comes down to Nic Claxton, Bruce Brown, or Drummond.
At the risk of making the answer sound like a cop-out, head coach Steve Nash can start any of those players depending on the matchup. Drummond could be the choice if the Nets are playing a team with a traditional center. Or Claxton could be the fifth starter based on his experience in the system and his advantage over Drummond in terms of athleticism.
Brown has developed into a regular starter with his versatility as a 6-foot-4 guard who can play like a 6-10 power forward. Even Alridge has been an integral part of the lineup. Nash will have his choice for a fifth starter.
Scenario two: Mills takes Kyrie’s starting spot when the Nets are at home. That’s been the case all season and will undoubtedly remain the same.
Scenario three: With Durant out, once Simmons takes the floor, the starters will include a combination of Big Ben, Mills/Irving, and Curry. Using Brown’s versatility in another starting spot makes the most sense. Nash’s luxury with Simmons now available is that he can plug his new star into any spot, 1-5.
That means Simmons could play on the perimeter and Claxton/Drummond could start, or Simmons could technically play at center and Mills could start.
Essentially, the Nets don’t have a set starting lineup. They can throw a bunch of different options on the floor based on matchups, which is a significant advantage Simmons brings that Harden didn’t.
Projecting the Nets’ rotation
With so many options for the starting lineup, the rotation kind of sets itself.
If Simmons, Durant, Irving, Mills, Drummond, Claxton, Aldridge, Curry, and Brown can all start, they’re obviously rotation players. And that already puts Brooklyn nine deep.
Bembry has played in 48 games and averages almost 20 minutes. Griffin is still around. Cam Thomas has played nearly 19 minutes a game over 43 contests. James Johnson averages 18.9 minutes and has played in 39 games.
Just like with his starting lineup, Nash can go in a bunch of different directions with a rotation that can easily go 12 deep. It also gives Brooklyn plenty of options in case of injury.
After the Harden-Simmons trade, the Nets are a deeper, much more balanced team. That should serve them well as the franchise’s championship-or-bust aspirations remain.
All statistics courtesy of NBA.com.