That the Brooklyn Nets even entertained the idea of trading James Harden is remarkable. They traded several players, including the homegrown Jarrett Allen and Caris LeVert, plus three first-round picks and four pick swaps to acquire Harden 13 months ago. The Nets barely got to unleash their three-headed monster last season, but scored the most points per possession of any team in NBA history anyway. In the 15 games that Harden played with Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving (including five first-round playoff games), they made the analysts who had fretted about the fit -- "there's only one ball!" -- look foolish.

For all the rumors, leverage plays and misdirection surrounding their standoff with the Philadelphia 76ers, the basic terms were simple: Harden had not committed to Brooklyn beyond this season, and the Nets sent the message that they were willing to live with that ... unless Philadelphia could make it worth their while to trade him. That meant that Ben Simmons was not enough. Brooklyn needed to get Simmons -- a superb but peculiar player, a three-time All-Star, just 25 years old, brilliant passer, superstar on the fast break, one of the best defenders on the planet, the guy who didn't want to get fouled in last year's playoffs -- and it needed other stuff, too, so the front office could put Simmons and his new teammates in position to contend for championships. Plural. 

To make Thursday's blockbuster happen, the Sixers surrendered Simmons, Seth Curry, Andre Drummond and two first-round picks. This is not the kind of trade that the Nets would have been looking to make if Harden were not reportedly hoping to flee for Philly, if Irving were not unvaccinated and ineligible to play home games and if Joe Harris were not sidelined with an ankle injury that might require a second surgery. Now that Harden is gone, Brooklyn might not feel as good about its championship odds as it did eight months ago, before Harden hurt his hamstring in the opening minute of its second-round series. But there was no guarantee that it would ever feel that way again with Harden on the roster. Instead of holding onto an unhappy Harden and betting -- actually, hoping might be more accurate -- that they could still win this year's championship the way they envisioned it, the Nets have chosen to diversify. 

In Curry, Brooklyn has acquired one of the best complementary players in the NBA and one of the best shooters who has ever lived. He doesn't have the size or defensive versatility of Harris, who also fits that description, but he's more comfortable running pick-and-rolls and has preexisting chemistry with Simmons. The two of them spent the 2020-21 season destroying defenses with dribble-handoffs. 

The threat of Curry's shooting supercharges any offense, and his basketball IQ will make him particularly valuable to Steve Nash's coaching staff. The Nets have desperately missed Harris' movement and quick decision-making, a needed counterbalance to the isolation prowess of their stars. Curry solves that problem in the short term, but Brooklyn will have to accept that playoff opponents will target him for the same reasons they'll target Irving and Patty Mills. The way Harden defended this season, though, Curry isn't exactly a downgrade, and now the Nets have Simmons to clean things up.

Simmons and Harden are both "point guards," I guess, but they're about as similar as Logan Roy and Logan Paul. Offensively, Simmons is at his best zooming from end to end in transition, where his turbo button works better than anybody else's. Harden prefers to pound the ball into the ground and lull defenses to sleep, and his signature skill is literally slowing down. Harden's ability to dominate one-on-one on the perimeter is perhaps unmatched, while Simmons' shortcomings as an isolation scorer are so widely understood as to be unworthy of wasting words on them here. 

To introduce either one of them to a new team is to fundamentally change it. Harden's presence in Brooklyn pushed the team to fully embrace switching, just like the Houston Rockets did, and to relieve Irving of his point-guard responsibilities. Even though they hardly played together, the Nets' formula for winning a championship with Harden, Durant and Irving was easy to discern: Absolutely annihilate everybody with the best halfcourt offense imaginable, try to build a decent defense, try not to get killed on the glass. At close to full strength, when they were locked in defensively and moving the ball, they looked unstoppable. If opponents allowed them to find transition 3s, it was over. Brooklyn's new constellation of stars will brew a different concoction of strengths and weaknesses. The Nets no longer employ three of the sport's most proficient one-on-one scorers, an arrangement that forced defenses to make impossible decisions, but they will be even more terrifying in transition. They can aim higher defensively, and they can turn rebounding into a strength.

Simmons is not some kind of liability in the halfcourt, at least in the regular season, but he's obviously not the kind of creator Harden is. If this trade turns out to be a home run for Brooklyn, it will be because of everything else it allows the team to do. Despite Nash's stated distaste for my-turn-your-turn basketball, they have been prone to stagnating against switching defenses and they've been overly reliant on pull-up jumpers. Harden is not much of an off-ball mover and does not love to take catch-and-shoot 3s. These problems can be disguised by incredible shot-making, and they largely were in Brooklyn, until it was shorthanded in a grueling playoff series. Provided that the Nets can give him enough space, Simmons can put pressure on the rim off of DHOs, as a roll man and off the dribble. He can initiate actions, but Brooklyn's offense will come alive when he attacks an already compromised defense after Durant or Irving has created an advantage. 

In terms of sheer bucket-getting, the way-too-brief partnership between Harden, Durant and Irving was something the NBA had never seen. Any time an organization invests so much in three players, though, it becomes a challenge to fill in the gaps around them. Within the constraints of the salary cap, Brooklyn found hidden gems (Bruce Brown, then DeAndre' Bembry), convinced veterans (Jeff Green, then Blake Griffin and LaMarcus Aldridge, then Mills and Paul Millsap and Aldridge again) to take discounts and drafted well (Nicolas Claxton, Cam Thomas, Kessler Edwards, Day'Ron Sharpe). Green left for more money last offseason, though, and Harden in particular missed the spacing that both he and Landry Shamet (traded to Phoenix) provided. Brooklyn would still be near the top of the standings if not for injuries, Irving's part-time status and Griffin's poor shooting, but, year after year, the Harden-Durant-Irving trio would have forced Sean Marks' front office to try to find low-cost, low-usage role players who can switch and shoot 3s -- and likely settle for players who almost fit that description. 

The new Nets can now have Durant and Simmons guard opposing bigs. They can play multiple ways defensively, and they can more naturally run an offense that jibes with the way Nash sees the game. It's unclear what exactly their ideal rotation will look like -- the frontcourt is just as crowded with Drummond in Millsap's place -- and whether or not they will ever be fully whole this season, but, over the next few years, the two extra first-round picks will make it much easier for Marks to find pieces that fit. So will the fact that the Simmons-Durant-Irving triptych is much more balanced than the previous one. 

As crazy as it sounds, trading for Ben Simmons, an absolute basketball weirdo, has not only relieved Brooklyn's short-term tension and given it more of a runway to win big. It has made the Nets more conventional.