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6 takeaways from busy trade deadline

James Harden and Ben Simmons get their wishes granted, several East contenders upgrade their rosters and the buyout market takes shape.

James Harden and Ben Simmons were traded for one another Thursday as part of a blockbuster deadline deal.

Here are six takeaways from the many deals completed by Thursday’s trade deadline:

The Redeem Trade

What are NBA fans going to do now that the league’s two biggest drama kings – James Harden and Ben Simmons – got their wishes granted? All that “will he or won’t he” speculation is over, times two.

Minus the distractions, the focus will shift to hoops and the challenge to both All-Star guards is to prove they can be assets rather than liabilities over what remains of this season.

Kenny, Chuck, EJ, and Shaq debate who won the James Harden trade.

Simmons dragged a dark cloud over Philadelphia’s campaign from the start, bristling over criticism from coach Doc Rivers and teammate Joel Embiid after they were eliminated by Atlanta last June. Rather than push back in words and/or deeds, he retreated and soon removed himself. Harden grew disgruntled on the fly, fussing his way out of a team for the second time in 13 months.

The day’s blockbuster trade essentially fired a starting gun for a race both Harden and Simmons will now run to see which one polishes his image faster and better.

A possible win-win-win-win-win move

Despite any hard feelings in their former markets, Harden and Simmons have the opportunity to make this trade successful for all involved parties.

Harden, going from Kevin Durant to top Kia MVP candidate Embiid, doesn’t give up a bit in terms of a marquee teammate. His scoring ability and knack for getting to the foul line can complement Philadelphia’s vastly skilled big man, who’s at the peak of his powers.

With the Sixers who remain, from Tobias Harris and Tyrese Maxey to Matisse Thybulle and the rest, they have an urgency to strike now in a wide-open Eastern Conference. Philly hasn’t had Simmons anyway, so for this squad, right now, it’s all about exchanging Seth Curry and Andre Drummond for a freshly motivated former MVP.

Which team made out best in Harden-Simmons blockbuster?

For Simmons, this is his Andrew Wiggins moment, a clean start to be viewed through fresh eyes. Trying to upgrade his game and refurbish his reputation in Philadelphia was going to be tough; he forever would be the 2016 No. 1 draft pick who ultimately let the Sixers down. Now he can be reborn, bringing his unique bundle of skills and his tenacious defense at age 25 to his former team’s rival.

Brooklyn has to feel great about that, since the blueprint of Harden, Durant and Kyrie Irving was a reality for all of 16 games. If New York’s vaccine mandate gets lifted, Irving can return to full-time status for a new trio that might mesh better than the previous one. Plus sharpshooter Curry comes aboard now, too.

The fifth W in this deal should go to Sixers POBO Daryl Morey, who probably got the best possible return for Simmons he could have, creating this reunion for the former Rockets exec and Harden. He got the best player in the deal, he moved Simmons by the deadline and he delivered a star and peer who helps Embiid right now.

The East gets beastier

From the major move detailed above down to roster tweaks and enhancements, several Eastern Conference contenders appear to have upgraded their depth and their chances.

The Nets and the Sixers know far more about what they’ll have down the stretch (aside from Irving’s unsettled status) and should be all in on making this trade work for their side. But Milwaukee, the 2021 defending champs, added a key piece in picking up Serge Ibaka from the Clippers. The veteran big man, used in short stints, still produces at a 15-point, 10-rebound prorated level and might ease concerns about center Brook Lopez’s return.

Cleveland added a professional scorer in Caris LeVert without giving up an active player. Toronto’s pickup of Thaddeus Young brings some veteran savvy to its young, fleet-footed squad. Charlotte got some help in the paint in Montrezl Harrell thanks to Washington’s post-Bradley Beal shutdown and fire sale.

Which teams improved most at deadline?

Boston reconfigured its bench, ending up with the Spurs’ Derrick White and former Celtic Daniel Theis. Miami, Chicago and Atlanta held onto their players but presumably will scour the buyout market to fill needs.

The trade action out West wasn’t nearly as frenzied near the top of the standings, though league-leading Phoenix did acquire a pair of helpers in defensive wing Torrey Craig and point guard Aaron Holiday. But Golden State, Memphis, Denver, Minnesota and the Lakers – five of the top nine – did little or nothing.

The Mavericks dealt dollars

Sending out big man Kristaps Porzingis for Washington’s Spencer Dinwiddie and Davis Bertans was Dallas’ admission that Porzingis never had and probably never would become that perfect tandem partner with star Luka Doncic. But the deal was about money, too, with the Mavericks shedding the two years and $70 million left on Porzingis’ deal.

Dinwiddie and Bertans have hefty contracts, too, but the final year of each former Wizard’s deal is not fully guaranteed. The Mavericks put some of their payroll breathing room to work immediately, reportedly signing Dorian Finney-Smith to a four-year, $55 million extension Thursday.

Kristaps Porzingis gets fresh start in Washington.

Dallas also has been mentioned as perhaps the top destination for potential buyout guy Goran Dragic after Dragic got dealt by Toronto to San Antonio.

Play-In positioning by Kings?

It’s hard to see the maneuvers in Washington, Indiana, Orlando, Detroit, San Antonio and Portland as anything but moves for the summer and beyond. But for Sacramento, adding the likes of Domantas Sabonis, Trey Lyles, Josh Jackson and Donte DiVincenzo could get the Kings A) some respectability and B) a real shot to hoist themselves into the postseason.

Look, sending out guard Tyrese Haliburton – the steady two-way guard who looked like a veteran as a rookie last season – had to sting. But Sabonis already is what Haliburton hopes to become: a multiple-time All-Star. He paid instant dividends in Sacramento’s victory over Minnesota Wednesday, and the others bring a transfusion of talent while the moves cleared out some logjams (Buddy Hield) and flotsam (Marvin Bagley III, who gets a reset in Detroit).

The Kings began Thursday’s action in 12th place in the West but only 2.5 games behind 10th place New Orleans. For a franchise that has burned through nine coaches since it last sniffed the playoffs in 2006, even a play-in rung would boost moods and reward that loyal fan base.

The Kings add Donte DiVincenzo and others as they gear up for a playoff push.

Buyout market awaits

In no particular order, here are some names that will – or might be – available in the buyout market once the smoke all clears from deadline day:

Dragic, Dennis Schroder, Gary Harris, Derrick Favors, Robin Lopez, Tristan Thompson, D.J. Augustine, DeAndre Bembry, Deandre Jordan, Jeremy Lamb, Eric Bledsoe, Kent Bazemore, Kemba Walker, Mike Muscala and Enes Kanter Freedom.

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Steve Aschburner has written about the NBA since 1980. You can e-mail him here, find his archive here and follow him on Twitter.

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