Local fans are understandably excited to boo former Sixers All-Star Ben Simmons, who is expected to be out of the Nets’ lineup with a back issue, but on their bench, seeking exposure-to-the-elements as well as perhaps some financial compensation.
Nets coach Steve Nash says his team knows Philly fans will be out for their “pound of flesh,” in what figures to be an unbelievable atmosphere.
It’s a weird subplot to think that Simmons may actually be hoping the fans behave ruthlessly towards him so he can use the incident as evidence in a future grievance seeking to recoup $20M he lost in salary by not playing. The flip side might be Sixers management hoping things are relatively tame so they don’t have to part with the coin down the road and can instead squirrel it away into future luxury tax funds.
So I guess it’s operation: boo Simmons, cheer Harden, and don’t get yourself ejected for being a knucklehead.
Steve Nash said he’s open to conversation if Ben Simmons needs it ahead of his return to Philly. Thinks it’s good for him to get some of the heckling out of the way even though he’s not playing.— Alex Schiffer (@Alex__Schiffer) March 8, 2022
There are enough storylines regarding Simmons for a month, but the other angle here is that the player he was traded for, James Harden, will be in the lineup.
And it will be the first time he’ll face former superstar teammates Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving, the two players he was reportedly frustrated with, at times this year. The two players he clearly didn’t want to plant his flag alongside for the next four-five seasons as The Beard desperately seeks an ever elusive title.
The former MVP who thought he had a better shot at a ring playing alongside Joel Embiid than Kevin Durant? The three-time scoring champ who preferred Philly to big-market NYC? Pinch me.
For some in-depth analysis on what led to Harden becoming a Sixer and plenty about what is shaping up to be a budding rivalry between two powerhouse Eastern Conference teams, check out the latest “Talking About Podcast” where Sean Kennedy and I hosted Matt Brooks of SB Nation’s NetsDaily.
But after a 50-point explosion by Kyrie Irving vs. LaMelo Ball and the Charlotte Hornets, Durant and Irving shared some feelings about how things ended with Harden before the Feb. 10 NBA Trade Deadline.
KD, playing in his third game back after missing 21 with an MCL sprain, was asked Tuesday if there could have been some way to salvage the Nets Big Three before it was too late.
“No, I mean, you try to look at it from [Harden’s] perspective,” Durant said. “You look up and Ky’s not playing and then I’m injured, he hasn’t won a championship before so he’s looking. He’s 32 years old I guess? He’s looking at himself wanting to make a decision and get on a team that can kinda get him to that contending, being one of the last team’s standing. So you look at it from his perspective and say ‘it is what it is’ you can’t really control how somebody feels when you’re thinking like that. Hopefully stay healthy, and their team stay healthy and we stay healthy, and we have a great year, they have a great year, we can just move on from this, you know?”
Durant pushed back on the idea that there is a Sixers-Nets rivalry, saying you have to play once in the playoffs but even then it may take three or even four meetings to get to that status. He talked about how if he were 22 or 23 he might have felt the extra juice playing against a recently-traded teammate but that this won’t be a huge deal.
Jake Fischer of BleacherReport talked about how there was a cold war in the locker room between Durant and Harden at one point prior to the trade. More than a couple of the top industry names used the phrase “passive-aggressive” with regard to Harden’s finding a way to get himself dealt.
“I was coming in late into things,” Irving said, after recording his fifth career 50-point game on just 19 shots Tuesday.
Good thing Matisse Thybulle has an extra day off to prep for this guy, huh?
“And I was told one thing,” Irving continued, “and now I’m told another thing, and trade deadline comes up and that was a whole different situation, and now I’m answering questions about like what happened. I don’t have a timeline of whether or not things could have gone better or not. I thought we were in a good swing but everybody has their own visions... if that’s what James wanted than I respect his decision....I wish him nothing but peace and love, we have a great friendship, but it didn’t work out. Wish things could have been communicated better for all of us you know as men but hey, no hard feelings here with me or anyone else.”
It has been widely reported that Harden shared with the Nets he wanted to stay long term but then expressed the opposite to others. Maybe that’s what Irving is referring to when he says he wishes they’d “communicated better for all of us, as men.”
It’s fine if you want to leave but then don’t tell us you want to stay.
But from Harden’s point of view, if the Nets front office didn’t oblige him, he would have had to make it work with Durant and Irving. So perhaps this wasn’t the worst way to play a tricky hand.
But when given the chance to place blame squarely on Harden, Irving delegated responsibility to everyone.
“I mean it’s an organization so all of us communicate,” Irving explained. “We’re all responsible for it but we’re still in the same league, it’s not like he went somewhere different where we’re not gonna see him again and we’re not gonna see him in the summer time.”
"I wish him nothing but peace and love, we have a great friendship, but it didn't work out. Wish things could have been communicated better for all of us as men but hey, no hard feelings here with me."— DaveEarly (@DavidEarly) March 9, 2022
-Kyrie Irving's on how things ended with his James Harden #NetsWorld pic.twitter.com/BYpHjJOnLW
Durant said he may not speak with Harden during the game. Irving makes it sound like they’re still friends and may even hang out or work out together next summer. Harden tends to keep things close to the vest. We may never know exactly what transpired but whatever it was brought James Harden to Philly. Boo Ben, cheer the Beard. And hope that Harden’s bet that Philly not Brooklyn was/is his best path to a championship, gets some validation.