Winners (with caveats), losers from Ben Simmons for James Harden trade

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Ben Simmons has wanted out of Philadelphia since last summer. James Harden wanted out of Brooklyn since some point this season, when he started mailing it in.

That led to a blockbuster trade hours before the deadline where both players got what they wanted — Harden and Simmons were traded for each other. But will that be good for their teams? There are championship-level rewards for the team and player where this goes right, but there are GMs looking for jobs/tarnished player legacies for the team where this trade goes sideways.

Right now, you can make a case for a lot of winners, but in a couple of years we’re going to look back on this and see some clear losers. There are so many questions.

Let’s break down the winners — with caveats — and losers from this blockbuster. But first, here is the deal:

The 76ers receive: James Harden, Paul Millsap
The Nets receive: Ben Simmons, Seth CurryAndre Drummond, two first-round picks

WINNER: DARYL MOREY… IF PHILLY WINS IT ALL

Daryl Morey got what he wanted — he and James Harden are back together on a contender.

But the price was steep: An elite shooter in Curry, two first-round picks, plus the 76ers are going to have to pay Harden four years, $222.8 million on top of the $47.4 he just opted into for next season. That’s five years, $270 million taking Harden through age 37. The 76ers will regret the last year or two of that contract.

Morey gave up flexibility and options to take a swing at winning it all in the next couple of seasons. That’s a good thing — more teams should make home run swings. But home run swings also lead to more strikeouts, which could be the case for Morey and the 76ers. He has boxed himself in with this trade.

WINNER: BROOKLYN NETS… IF BEN SIMMONS FITS DURING PLAYOFFS

What Brooklyn had done for the first 54 games this season was not working. Harden was unhappy, his attitude was bringing the Nets down. This team needed a change.

It got one — a change that looks great on paper.

Simmons’ ability to push the ball in transition, his passing, and his elite perimeter defense should mesh beautifully with the isolation game of Kyrie Irving and the he-does-everything-well game of Kevin Durant. It’s easy to envision the Nets forcing a miss, Simmons pushing the ball up the court, pulling it back because nothing is there, and getting it to Durant to run the halfcourt set and letting him work. Good luck stopping that offense.

If it can get healthy, this Nets team should be a regular season powerhouse. If Simmons is truly mentally ready to play, there should be a seamless fit with this roster during the first 82 games.

The questions about this trade come in the playoffs, specifically the second round and beyond. Elite teams will force the Nets away from strengths and to deeper options in the playbook — they are going to force Simmons to shoot, and they are going to foul him and send him to the free throw line. Simmons wilted in the pressure cooker of Philadelphia in the playoffs next to Embiid — playing next to Durant in New York turns the fire up to new levels. Durant, Irving, Mills and others on the Nets’ roster have proven they can handle the heat. How will Simmons respond?

Nets GM Sean Marks did what he had to. Harden wasn’t happy — when was the last time he was happy for an extended period on the court? — and it was time to make a change. Getting Simmons could prove to be a brilliant and the final step needed to bring Brooklyn a title, but it comes down to how Simmons fits and how well he is prepared for the pressure of the playoffs in New York.

WINNER: PHILADELPHIA 76ERS… IF JAMES HARDEN IS HEALTHY, ENGAGED

Does James Harden fit well with Joel Embiid? It may not be as smooth and natural as people expect. Harden has always preferred rim-running bigs he could lob to, but who also vacated the space and let him work. Embiid is not a screen-and-roll guy. Embiid wants the ball on the block, or 15 feet out so he can face up, but that leaves Harden off the ball, where he tends to lose focus and start coasting through games. Embiid can space the floor and draw an opposing center out, away from protecting the paint and opening up lanes for Harden to drive, but the best use of Embiid is not him standing in the corner as a decoy.

Great players tend to figure out how to play together, and while this may not be natural for Philly, the smart money is on Embiid and Harden figuring it out.

They have to figure it out. Pretty quickly.

Harden is 32 and has shown signs of decline this season (although was it decline or his famed disinterest?). Joel Embiid is in his prime and playing like an MVP, but he has an injury history — and a foot injury history specifically — that could cut short some seasons. The window for the 76ers is not going to be terribly long; they need to take full advantage of it from the start.

Bottom line — Philly got better. Their title chances this season went up… if the 76ers get the healthy, engaged, focused Harden. If Philly does get that Harden, then for how long? The 76ers gave up a lot of depth to get Harden, they need the All-NBA version of him to make a title run.

LOSERS: KINGS, TIMBERWOLVES, PACERS, CAVALIERS, SPURS, EVERY OTHER SMALL MARKET TEAM CHASING SIMMONS

Simmons already got his max extension, he is under contract for four more years after this one. That drew small- and mid-market teams into the Simons trade mix early and aggressively — here was a chance for them to land a superstar player, one that would be under contract with them for years. Superstars get drafted into smaller markets, but they rarely go there as a free agent. Here was a chance for a team to trade for a young All-Star and build something around him. It was a rare opportunity.

They tried. Teams called and made offers.

Ben Simmons ended up in Brooklyn anyway.

That wasn’t a small market bias — Morey wanted Harden, and Harden happened to be in Brooklyn — but it is a loss, a missed opportunity for teams that struggle to get this level of star in free agency.

WINNER: MEEK MILL

The Philadelphia rapper is tight with James Harden. This couldn’t have gone much better for him.

LeBron James passes Magic Johnson for sixth all-time in assists

Los Angeles Lakers v Milwaukee Bucks
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Magic Johnson is one of the greatest, most creative passers the game has ever seen.

Friday night, LeBron James passed Magic for sixth all-time in assists in the NBA. For LeBron, doing that in a Lakers’ jersey like Magic wore was special.

It happened with 8:41 remaining left in the game, LeBron found Anthony Davis for a 3-pointer on the right wing.

LeBron finished the night with 11 assists and 28 points, which along with a monster 44-point night from Anthony Davis led the Lakers to an impressive win over the Bucks in Milwaukee.

 

 

 

Jimmy Butler returns, hits clutch shots to lift Heat past Celtics

Miami Heat v Boston Celtics
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BOSTON (AP) — Bam Adebayo scored 28 points, Tyler Herro had 26 and the Miami Heat completed a split of two games in Boston, beating the Celtics 120-116 on Friday night after Jaylen Brown banked in a long 3-pointer to force overtime.

Heat leading scorer Jimmy Butler returned to the lineup and had 25 points in 36 minutes after missing the previous seven games with a sore right knee. He added 15 rebounds.

“Obviously having JB back is big time for us,” Herro said. “He helps us in so many different ways.”

Kyle Lowry chipped in with 20 points before fouling out in OT for the Heat, who sent Boston to just its second loss in 16 games.

“My team welcomed me back and let me do what I do,” Butler said. “It was a big `W’ for the team.”

Brown sent the game to overtime by banking in his long 3 with 1.7 seconds to play in regulation. He finished with 37 points.

“It felt good coming off my hand,” Brown said. “I know we wanted to get a shot up off the rim as fast as possible, just in case we missed we could get a rebound, a tip out.”

The Celtics had won 10 straight at TD Garden.

Boston star Jayson Tatum scored just 14 points on a cold shooting night, going 5 of 18 from the floor, including 0 of 7 on 3-point attempts. He had 49 points in the Celtics’ 134-121 victory on Wednesday night.

“That’s the biggest thing about the league; you’re not going to stop anybody from just scoring,” Adebayo said. “I feel like (we’re) making him take tough shots every time we play him and living with the result.”

Butler hit a clutch jumper over Al Horford, making it 110-107 with 5.1 seconds left in regulation before Brown took a pass near midcourt, dribbled to his right and nailed his shot.

In OT, the teams were tied twice before Butler nailed a foul-line jumper over Horford with 1:45 left, but Brown hit two free throws to tie it.

Adebayo nailed two free throws and, after Tatum misfired on a 3, Butler hit a jumper to seal it.

“Jimmy made two tough, tough baskets,” Brown said. “That’s just a credit to his work and his skill and his development. He gets going in games like this; on the road in a hostile environment. … Tonight, two shots that in our defensive scheme we could live with, but Jimmy a big-time player made both of them.”

Unlike Wednesday, when shots were open more and both teams were making them effectively (each shot over 50%), defense was tighter and it resembled more of the postseason matchup last season between the pair that went seven games before Boston captured the Eastern Conference title.

Anthony Davis scores 44, outduels Antetokounmpo (40) leading Lakers past Bucks

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MILWAUKEE (AP) — Anthony Davis and LeBron James tore apart the NBA’s top-rated defense and gave Los Angeles Lakers coach Darvin Ham a triumphant return to Milwaukee.

Davis scored a season-high 44 points and James passed Magic Johnson on the NBA’s career assists list Friday night in the Lakers’ thrilling 133-129 victory over the Bucks.

It marked Ham’s first game in Milwaukee since taking over as Lakers coach after working as an assistant on Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer’s staff from 2018-22.

Ham and Budenholzer shared a big hug before the game.

“It was a beautiful night,” said Ham, who also played for the Bucks from 1999-2002.

It also was quite a night for Davis, a Green Bay Packers fan who delivered his big performance with Aaron Rodgers in the stands. Davis spoke with the Packers’ four-time MVP quarterback before and after the game.

“I saw him before the game and he said, `I need 30 tonight,”‘ Davis said. “I just saw him and he said, `I only said 30, not 40.’ It’s always good for him to come out and watch the Lakers play.”

James made a tiebreaking 3-pointer with 3:22 left and finished with 28 points, 11 assists and eight rebounds. He upped his career assist total to 10,144 and moved into sixth place, ahead of Johnson’s 10,133.

“It means a lot, obviously,” James said. “The way Magic approached the game, it was very infectious. His teammates loved playing with him because of the joy he played with and the ability to pass the ball and get other guys involved. He was always excited about seeing his teammates be great. I always admired that in him. What’s even more humbling and super duper cool is the fact that I’m doing it in a Laker uniform and knowing how much Magic means to the Laker franchise.”

The Lakers had the highest point total and field-goal percentage (.536) the Bucks had allowed all season. Milwaukee entered Friday with the NBA’s top defensive rating.

“It was too easy, too easy, too easy,” Milwaukee’s Giannis Antetokounmpo said. “They were living in the paint. That’s not who we are.”

Los Angeles withstood a 40-point performance from Antetokounmpo, who also had seven rebounds and five assists.

The Lakers also spoiled the 2022-23 debut of Milwaukee’s Khris Middleton, who had 17 points and seven assists in his return from offseason wrist surgery.

Milwaukee missed two potential tying 3-pointers in the final 20 seconds.

After Davis missed a fadeaway jumper, the Bucks called a timeout with 21.4 seconds left and then found an open Grayson Allen, whose 3-point attempt went off the side of the rim.

The Lakers’ Russell Westbrook missed two free throws with 13.3 seconds remaining, but Jrue Holiday couldn’t connect on a 3-pointer with just over five seconds left. Davis made a clinching free throw with 4.5 seconds left.

“Grayson got a good look,” Budenholzer said. “Good execution. Good screening. We’ll live with that shot all the time. And Jrue, similar. We got the kick ahead, playing against a defense that’s not set. Jrue, kind of a good rhythm shot for him. It was contested, but Jrue was 6 of 12 tonight (from 3-point range). He was feeling it.”

Holiday had 28 points for the Bucks, and Bobby Portis added 15 points and 10 rebounds. Westbrook had 15 points, 11 assists and seven rebounds for the Lakers.

Hawks’ Collins out weeks with sprained ankle, Hunter also at least a week

Atlanta Hawks v Philadelphia 76ers
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ATLANTA (AP) — The Atlanta Hawks will be without both of their starting forwards for at least the next three games.

John Collins will miss at least the next two weeks with a sprained left ankle and De'Andre Hunter will be sidelined for at least one week with a right hip flexor strain, the Hawks said Thursday.

Both departed with injuries during Wednesday night’s win over Orlando. Hunter played only seven minutes and Collins was hurt after a dunk that didn’t count at the halftime buzzer.

Hunter is third on the Hawks in scoring at 14.9 points per game, and Collins is fourth at 12.3 points.

Hunter, a fourth-year player out of Virginia, has yet to play a full season because of various injuries.