When was the last time an insignificant trade that involved zero All-Stars dominated an entire news cycle? Saturday morning’s trade between Washington and Phoenix that will send Trevor Ariza to the Wizards and Austin Rivers and Kelly Oubre Jr. to the Suns will be remembered best for what didn’t happen rather than what did. It was a face-saving deal made hours after a three-team trade between the Wizards, Suns, and Memphis Grizzlies broke down over an iconic feat of miscommunication. There was going to be a Brooks sent to Phoenix in the three-way deal: The Suns thought they were getting Dillon Brooks and the Grizzlies thought they were sending MarShon Brooks. Even for the NBA, this was absurd.
In retrospect, it made little sense for the Suns, a team filled with young players, to trade for 29-year-old MarShon, who was out of the league two years ago. But the Grizzlies, of course, were evidently hellbent on retaining Dillon, a second-year wing out of Oregon who’s been injured this season but showed flashes of two-way potential last season. What began as a quaint Friday night news dump descended into madness. Both teams were adamant that the trade included the Brooks they were talking about. Wizards players were saying their goodbyes in the locker room after finding out the news following their loss to the Nets in Brooklyn. Micro-beefs between opposing team insiders emerged on Twitter regarding the veracity of each side’s reporting. The deal was dead by 11 p.m. on the East Coast. You couldn’t have made this up.
Saturday’s actual trade feels like a hastily made hangover cure. Washington still gets its man in Ariza, and in Rivers and Oubre, the Suns get a more significant haul than they signed up for Friday night (though it doesn’t make their roster any easier to figure out). No Brookses allowed this time. Still, I’m not quite sure what this accomplishes for either team. The biggest indictment falls on the Wizards, who, Brooksgate or not, still had to give away two young players for a 33-year-old Ariza, whose impact is best felt on winning teams. (A reminder: The Wizards are 11-18.) Washington evidently wanted Ariza badly, and though he had other suitors in Houston and Los Angeles, reports surfaced that Suns owner Robert Sarver did not want to trade him to the Lakers.
The deal makes sense in a vacuum from the Wizards’ perspective. They were not going to be able to pay Oubre, who will be a restricted free agent this summer, so getting something in return was imperative. Ariza is a former Wizard and has been a notably good locker-room presence in most of his stops. It’s an intangible quality the team clearly needs. He also gives Washington some kind of two-way ability, or at least whatever he has left. Ariza is 33 and is averaging 9.9 points and shooting 36 percent from 3 (Oubre is shooting 31.1 percent from 3 this season). Though he fits the Wizards’ desire for a more versatile and bigger wing, he is still just a short-term move to counteract a deep, long-term issue.
The Wizards, despite being seven games below .500, are not in complete chaos like they were a few weeks ago, and this move signals that the team isn’t giving up on the playoffs just yet. The bottom of the Eastern Conference playoff race is bleak, and the Wizards have the talent to edge their way in. But it must be a disappointing decision for Wizards fans; this feels like yet another lateral move in order to ensure their present rather than a forward-thinking move to help clarify the future of the franchise. It’s quintessentially Wizards. And you can bet that first-round loss to the Raptors in the playoffs is coming.
For the Suns, this doesn’t totally solve their problems either. They have a glut of wings already and this doesn’t help with their biggest question mark: point guard. Phoenix has tried different options at the position this season, including turning Devin Booker into a James Harden-like vessel for their offense. The addition of Rivers feels almost redundant; he’s another player that has technically played point guard before, but isn’t completely equipped to do so at this stage of his career. Oubre is a nice wing player that has had a career based entirely on flashes, but the same can be said of sophomore wing Josh Jackson, who now has even more competition in the rotation. Oubre has had an up-and-down season, but he just turned 23 and might be worth the gamble, the way they thought Elfrid Payton was last year for Phoenix. It felt like a change of scenery was long overdue for Oubre even if, in some ways, he’s just going from one dysfunctional franchise to another.
The Wizards and Suns are two franchises that can’t stop showing off their organizational incompetence. Friday night’s Brooks fiasco was an epitomizing example. Both teams are searching for Band-Aids to solve problems in the short-term instead of being honest with themselves. Phoenix is likely better set up to win this trade in the long run, but even still, declaring one team as such after the fiasco that just happened feels counterintuitive. One thing is certain, though: This was a lot more fun when the Brookses were involved.