CLEVELAND — Jarrett Allen was part of last season’s blockbuster trade centered around James Harden. So the Cavaliers’ All-Star big man “kind of knew what the rumblings meant” when the possibility of a Harden-for-Ben Simmons swap began to circulate heading into this season’s Feb. 10 deadline to make a deal.

It’s been less than two weeks since one of the more significant in-season trades in NBA history brought Harden and Paul Millsap to the Sixers and sent Simmons, Seth Curry, Andre Drummond, and two first-round draft picks to the Brooklyn Nets. Neither All-Star has played yet for his new team. But players and coaches at All-Star Weekend expect the trade to tangibly impact the final sprint of what has already been a tight and fascinating Eastern Conference playoff race.

“It shook things up,” said Toronto Raptors point guard Fred VanVleet. “There had been rumors, so it wasn’t like it was a super surprise. But to actually see it be final, it was like, ‘Wow, who would have ever thought?’

“Just 12 months ago … we were thinking Brooklyn was going to go on to win five championships in a row, and that was the narrative, ‘Who can stop this Big Three?’ It didn’t pan out that way, and now they’re shuffling the deck again.”

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Coming out of the All-Star break, seeds one through five in the East standings are separated by only 2 1/2 games. The same margin exists between the third seed and seventh seed, or the first play-in spot that is currently occupied by the 32-25 Raptors. If the postseason began today, the third-seeded Sixers (35-23) would match up in the first round against the sixth-seeded Boston Celtics (34-26), who blasted the Sixers by 48 points last week to even the regular-season series, 2-2.

“It’s like you [lose] three games and now, all of a sudden, you’re in seventh,” said Allen, whose Cavaliers have the same record as the Sixers but hold the fourth seed. “It’s a crazy race. Those big moves [like the Harden-Simmons trade] can change a lot.”

Added Erik Spoelstra, the coach of the top-seeded Miami Heat: “I know the East has taken a lot of criticism over the years. That is not the case now. It’s legit. There are quite a few teams that feel like they’re contending teams, including ourselves.”

Allen and Atlanta Hawks guard Trae Young both said Saturday that they believe the Sixers and Nets improved through the trade. Both teams infused talent into their rosters while resolving the issues stemming from disgruntled stars.

In Harden, the Sixers bring in a 10-time All-Star, three-time scoring champ and 2017-18 NBA Most Valuable Player who averaged 22.5 points, 10.2 assists, and 8.0 rebounds in 44 games with the Nets this season to pair with dominant center Joel Embiid. Simmons, meanwhile, is a three-time All-Star and runner-up for the 2020-21 Defensive Player of the Year Award who can complement Kevin Durant (currently out with a knee injury) and Kyrie Irving (who can only play in most road games because he is unvaccinated) as an elite facilitator and transition player.

Embiid referred to Simmons’ trade demand and refusal to play for the Sixers as “drama” when asked Saturday to make his MVP case. Brooklyn veteran guard Patty Mills, a fellow Aussie who has known Simmons since he was a teenager, called the lead-up to the deadline “unsettling times” but added the deal gave the Nets “a determined, fire-burning hunger” for the stretch run after snapping an 11-game losing skid that caused them to tumble to eighth in the standings.

Others around the conference, however, watched the sagas in Philly and Brooklyn unfold from afar.

Young said he understood “where both sides [could] be frustrated” in Simmons’ situation. The Heat’s Jimmy Butler, who has unique perspective as a former Sixer and Simmons teammate, initially brushed off a question about the trade by saying, “It didn’t have too much to do with me or my team” but added, “I just want everybody to be happy and go out there and compete, smile and love the situation they’re in and just love the game.”

“If [Harden is] happy there, then that’s where I want him to be,” Butler said. “He’s with one of my best friends in Joel, and they got a really good team. I can’t wait to go up against them and see what we’re made of.”

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Mills said Simmons has been “in a really good place mentally” since joining the Nets, while Sixers coach Doc Rivers has described Harden as a model teammate since arriving in Philly. With less than 30 games to play, both teams will aim to fast-track the acclimation process for their new stars. A March 10 showdown between the Sixers and Nets at the Wells Fargo Center — their final regular-season matchup — will be must-watch for NBA followers. And with how quickly the standings can shift, a playoff series this spring is absolutely possible.

That all makes the trade’s immediate impact one of the stretch run’s more intriguing storylines, even for those directly battling the Sixers and Nets in a tight playoff race.

“For those two teams, I hope it doesn’t work for them,” VanVleet said. “I hope they stink, and that will help our chances going forward. As a competitor, you always try to look for weaknesses.

“But as a fan of the game, I mean, you got to be excited about both of those teams getting revamped.”