The case of the mistaken Brooks was solved Saturday — with no Brooks at all.
After a wild night of indecision, the Washington Wizards and Phoenix Suns finally agreed to a trade that will send Trevor Ariza to Washington in exchange for Austin Rivers and Kelly Oubre Jr. An earlier, expanded version of the deal that had included Memphis was reportedly done then scrapped after confusion as to which Grizzlies player — Dillon Brooks or MarShon Brooks — was supposed to be traded to the Suns.
Let’s run through the winners and losers of the final Wizards-Suns trade, plus the three-team deal that wasn’t.
Winners: Memphis Grizzlies
Sometimes a team’s best trades are the ones it doesn’t make. That seems to be the case for the Grizzlies, who were set to land Oubre from the Wizards while sending out multiple second-round picks in addition to Wayne Selden and either Dillon Brooks or MarShon Brooks.
Although both men named Brooks are bench players toiling in relative obscurity for the small-market Grizzlies, there’s a significant gap in their trade value. Dillon Brooks, a 2017 second-round pick, was a full-time starter for Memphis as a rookie. Moved to a bench role this year, the 22-year-old guard possesses the team’s highest offensive rating and holds an affordable $1.6 million option for next season. MarShon Brooks, by contrast, is a 29-year-old journeyman who spent a good chunk of his 20s playing in China. He’s seen only modest playing time this year, and is in on a minimum contract that expires at the end of this season.
In other words, MarShon Brooks is a prototypical throw-in piece for a trade. Given his age, contract status and promising rookie campaign, Dillon Brooks is not. There was clearly confusion between the three teams as to which Brooks was in the trade, but there shouldn’t have been any confusion as to which Brooks belonged in the trade. Memphis wisely hit the eject button once it became clear Phoenix was expecting Dillon Brooks. Oubre would have been a nice short-term pickup for the Grizzlies, but only if they didn’t have to part with a real asset.
Losers: Phoenix Suns
Friday was another rough day in another rough week in another rough month in another rough year for the Suns. The Western Conference’s lone laughingstock was embroiled in controversy earlier this week, when owner Robert Sarver allegedly threatened to move the team out of Phoenix if he didn’t receive government assistance to refurbish the team’s arena. Sarver and the Suns then spent the next few days in public-relations overdrive attempting to tamp down the backlash, only to be pilloried again for botching the most fundamental aspect of a trade: the player’s name.
The blame for the embarrassing confusion ultimately lies with Sarver, not with Phoenix’s inexperienced front office. Remember, it was Sarver who fired general manager Ryan McDonough in September and opted to install two co-interim GMs with no prior experience in the head role: James Jones and Trevor Bukstein. Should anyone be surprised that an organization that blew up its front office less than two weeks before its season opener found itself caught up in an embarrassing miscommunication?
Losers: Washington Wizards
As Wizards fans know from his previous stop in Washington, Ariza is a good, reliable player who checks several important boxes. He’s an unselfish offensive player who won’t stop the ball, a solid catch-and-shoot three-point option, and an intelligent and committed perimeter defender. Ariza will fit cleanly next to John Wall and Bradley Beal, and he should provide immediate help for Washington’s 27th-ranked defense.
But Ariza is neither a long-term solution nor, at 33, the same player he was during his previous Wizards tenure. He’s become more of a one-dimensional offensive player as he’s aged, and he’s set to become a free agent next summer. While Ariza fills a short-term hole for Washington and should help boost the Wizards’ chances of making the playoffs after an ugly start, he isn’t good enough to raise the franchise into the East’s tier of aspiring conversation.
Moving Oubre, a talented 23-year-old forward, for such a limited payoff is regrettable. Washington’s constrained salary cap surely contributed to its decision on Oubre, who has steadily improved as a pro and will likely command healthy offers as a free agent next summer. Still, moving Oubre because there isn’t going to be enough money isn’t a savvy, forward-thinking play; it’s a symptom of a longer track record of mismanagement.
Loser: Trevor Ariza
Recent rumors linked Ariza to a possible trade to the Los Angeles Lakers, another of his former teams. Without question, L.A. would have been a preferable fit, and not just because Ariza is an L.A. native who went to UCLA and won a title with the 2009 Lakers.
The Lakers are one of the NBA’s biggest early-season surprises, racing out to a 17-11 start in LeBron James’s first season in town. After spending four years flanking James Harden in Houston, Ariza would have been a natural complementary piece alongside James, improving the team’s offensive spacing and its perimeter defense.
Had the Lakers succeeded in dealing for Ariza, the move would have led to a week’s worth of buzz about a possible trip to the 2019 Western Conference finals. Instead, Ariza will now be called upon to be a voice of sanity in Washington, where finger-pointing and lackluster effort have been persistent problems.
Winners: Phoenix media
Austin Rivers didn’t make much of a difference on the court during his 23-game stint with the Wizards, but he certainly distinguished himself during his media availabilities. The son of one of the NBA’s most loquacious coaches, Doc Rivers, came into his own in D.C. as a truth-teller. Night after night, Rivers delivered sermons on Washington’s various shortcomings, pointing out the team’s “horrendous” defense and lack of urgency. After one loss during a particularly rough stretch in October, he even noted that “people are laughing at us.”
His comments were remarkable both for their honesty and their disregard for Washington’s established stars. In most NBA locker rooms, midcareer backup role players are among the quietest voices, not the loudest. Perhaps he was trying to talk his way out of town? In any event, the NBA world should now brace for a fully-unleashed Rivers, as he’s headed to one of the league’s most dysfunctional environments and one of its youngest locker rooms. Note to Phoenix media: Keep those cameras and tape recorders rolling at all times.
Loser: Kelly Oubre Jr.
For most everyone involved in the Brooks affair, the aborted three-team version of the Ariza trade will be remembered as a hilarious tale. Dillon and MarShon Brooks endured a night of confusion, but they got to return to work in Memphis as if nothing happened. Ariza was heading to Washington and Rivers was heading to Phoenix in both versions of the deal, so not much changed for them once the final terms were sent.
The fate of Oubre, however, is a different story. In the original three-team version, he was headed to the Grizzlies, who are off to a respectable 16-12 start and currently sit in the West’s playoff picture. Even better, Memphis’s front office has been on the prowl for wing help for years, and it has handed out generous long-term deals to the likes of Chandler Parsons and Kyle Anderson. For a relative youngster such as Oubre hoping to find a long-term home and a generous payday next summer, Memphis looked like a strong fit.
The same can’t be said for Phoenix, which is bumbling through its fifth straight losing season. There should be plenty of opportunity for Oubre to showcase his game with the Suns, but he would be better served playing in a more structured environment given his age and complementary game. With its constant coaching turnover and losing track record, Phoenix has become a Bermuda Triangle for developing players in recent years. Oubre must now hope he can buck the trend.