About 12 hours after telling reporters at shootaround that he expected James Harden to remain with the Brooklyn Nets after Thursday’s NBA trade deadline, coach Steve Nash had to talk about the fact that Harden had been traded to the Philadelphia 76ers.
Asked what changed, Nash said, “You’d have to ask Sean (Marks, the Nets’ general manager). I wasn’t up there with him. I was here focusing on the team.”
Nash said that, “as the hours ticked by today, it seemed more apparent” that a blockbuster trade was coming. While it has been widely reported that Harden was unhappy enough in Brooklyn to want a trade, Nash never “talked to James about unhappiness,” he said, “other than just typical, day-to-day ‘How can we make this thing better?'”
After the deal was done, Nash said he wished Harden the best of luck. He also said that he doesn’t know whether or not Harden ever directly asked out.
As for Ben Simmons, the headliner of the package the Nets got from Philadelphia, Nash said, “I think we want him to do a lot of things for us. I think that’s his gift.” Simmons is not, however, expected to any of those things immediately. He hasn’t played a single game this season, so “I think Ben has a lot more kind of physical and onboarding stuff to go through,” Nash said. (Before the trade, Simmons had been accruing fines for sitting out, maintaining that he was not mentally ready to return to the Sixers.)
Nash said he has “no idea” when Simmons will make his debut. The team’s performance staff will evaluate him and determine what he needs to do to get ready to play. Fellow newcomers Seth Curry and Andre Drummond could join the team in Miami, where Brooklyn will play the Heat on Saturday, but they will not necessarily suit up, according to Nash.
Nets guard Patty Mills has been in touch with Simmons. “We’re getting a very hungry, excited basketball player,” Mills said, stressing that, “especially with our group,” his fellow Aussie is looking forward to getting back on the court.
“Look, he’s in a really good place right now, speaking to him a fair bit lately and seeing what he’s been up to in terms of staying ready and getting his body right and getting game-ready,” Mills said. “So it was good and pleasing for me to see and feel where he’s at.”
To acquire Harden, Curry, Drummond and two second-round picks, Brooklyn traded Harden and big man Paul Millsap. It also waived wing DeAndre’ Bembry.
“I think we got better,” Nets big man Blake Griffin said. “And I’m excited to get those guys with us and just move forward.”
More specifically, Griffin said they “added perimeter defense, added a dynamic ballhandler, finisher (in Simmons); shooting (in Curry); rebounding (in Drummond)” and “guys who wanted to be here, guys who wanted to play.”
Alongside Kevin Durant (when he’s healthy), Kyrie Irving (in road games), Curry and Mills, Griffin thinks Simmons will be able to “play a little bit more free,” he said.
“I’m not worried about Ben,” Griffin said. “He’s been a highly effective player since he stepped into this league. Just because of what happened in Philly doesn’t mean he can’t play basketball anymore.”
On the subject of Simmons getting comfortable in his new surroundings, Mills said: “I’ve always had his back and now I have the opportunity to be with him. I’ve had his back from afar and I wish I was with him earlier in his career.”
The ever-ebullient Mills added that “it’s exciting times ahead” for Brooklyn and described Simmons as “a player that makes teammates around him better.” The version of the Nets that will feature Simmons hitting the glass, shutting down stars and starting fast breaks will be fundamentally different than the one that preceded it.
“I I think he’s unique,” Nash said. “I wouldn’t say he reminds me of anybody. I think he’s such a talented athlete at his size, able to guard almost anybody on the floor, can push it in transition, playmaker for his teammates, can facilitate offense as the ballhandler or as a picker and roller. So he’s an exciting player that you can put into different roles.”
For Brooklyn, it’s all about cohesion, Nash said, and “finding a way to play” that accentuates everybody’s strengths. Even though the Nets have made a franchise-altering trade for the second time in 13 months, and even though external expectations are lower than they used to be, Nash said they will “have a sense of urgency” and continue to play with this year’s championship in mind.
“Obviously we’re on a time crunch a little bit in getting everyone back healthy, gaining some cohesion and building a team that can flow and play at both ends of the floor,” Nash said. “But we’re not taking our foot off the gas. We want to try to build and reach for the stars.”