It’s always wise to wait and see how new teammates actually play together when assessing a big trade in any sport (just look at the Lakers and Russell Westbrook). There was no bigger trade this season in the NBA than the one sending James Harden to the Philadelphia 76ers and Ben Simmons, along with others, to the Brooklyn Nets just before this year’s trade deadline. And while it could be a bit longer before we see Simmons rock the Brooklyn uniform, Harden suited up for Philly for the first time on Friday. The results are already promising, just ask superstar center Joel Embiid who claimed he was “probably the most wide-open I’ve ever been,” in his first game playing with the former MVP, which ended up a 133-102 win for the 76ers over the Minnesota Timberwolves.
My initial reaction to this trade was that it was beneficial for both teams, but I thought the Sixers were the big winner. Harden is a type of offensive player that cannot be replicated and would easily be the best player Embiid has ever played with. There was a lot of discussion over the past few years regarding the awkward fit between Embiid and Simmons and if it could eventually work out as needed to win a championship. We will never truly know the answer to that question but what we do know is that it sure looks like Embiid and Harden fit together a lot more seamlessly. Embiid scored 34 points in the win over the Timberwolves on 10-18 shooting from the field. Harden assisted him on four of those shots so there is already some sort of chemistry brewing there. He also provides Philly with an offensive jolt that Simmons never really could. Harden scored 27 points and dished out 12 assists, he also hit five three-pointers which is as many as Simmons made in his entire 76ers career.
Obviously, there is a lot more left to learn about this superstar pairing but the positive thing is that it didn’t blow up in the team’s face immediately (again just look at the Lakers and Russell Westbrook). There are a lot of postseason demons that this time will have to exorcise if it wants to win a championship. Harden does not have a great playoff track record and head coach Doc Rivers has been on the wrong side of some of the biggest collapses in basketball despite also having a ring from his time in Boston. Embiid hasn’t produced any postseason flops perse but he hasn’t made it to the holy land better known as the NBA Finals yet. Luckily this team has 23 more regular-season games left to start clicking and gear up for a run that could very well take them all the way through the Eastern Conference and maybe even end up with them hoisting the Larry O’Brien trophy.