NEW YORK — Austin Rivers walked back from the showers after playing 34 minutes in the Washington Wizards' 125-118 loss to the Brooklyn Nets. He was shellshocked. Not because the Wizards, the team that traded for him in the summer and the group once held now-vanished expectations, had dropped their fourth consecutive game. He learned that he had just been traded.
“This kind of hit me as a surprise,” Rivers told reporters after being apprised of the news. “We got 54 games left. I thought we had some more time to get this going together, but you know, they want to go in a different direction, apparently."
Not so fast. Rivers apparently will be returning to Washington after all.
“S---, man. Everybody’s wondering what’s going on,” Rivers said before the night truly devolved into madness.
During the loss to the Brooklyn Nets, the Wizards' front office was busy working a trade involving the Phoenix Suns and Memphis Grizzlies and multiple players, which included Kelly Oubre Jr. and Rivers. However, the deal, which was first reported by ESPN, took an unexpected turn into chaos after the game as the Suns and Grizzlies failed to communicate on which players were being sent in the trade, according to Adrian Wojnarowski.
The now-dead deal was to land the Wizards forward Trevor Ariza, who provided defensive toughness and three-point shooting during his initial stop in Washington during the 2012-14 seasons.
Wojnarowski reported the deal as “dead” due to the confusion between the Suns and Grizzlies.
The trade hung over a subdued locker room, with Wizards players processing what would have been a second roster shake-up in a week — the team traded Jason Smith last week in a deal that brought Sam Dekker to Washington.
Dekker studied his phone and asked a nearby staffer: “You see the trade that just happened?” Then, Dekker tweeted Wojnarowski directly with a message. As a player who has been traded three times in his career, Dekker wanted no part of another move.
“Keep my name out your mouth,” read Dekker’s message to the ESPN reporter.
Oubre, the team’s 2015 first-round draft pick in the final year of his contract, thought he was heading to Memphis. As Oubre exited the showers inside the Barclays Center visitors' locker room, teammates Thomas Bryant, Troy Brown Jr. and Devin Robinson huddled around him for a private conversation. Oubre answered two questions from reporters, sharing that he didn’t know a thing about the trade (he did), then exited to the Barclays lower bowl to visit friends. Before leaving, he signed autographs on Wizards' gear held by fans.
“Good luck in Memphis,” one person shouted as an encouragement.
Oubre smiled and walked away.
Rivers, who the team traded for over the summer, was to be sent to Phoenix. Or so he kind of thought.
“I don’t know where I’m headed to,” Rivers said.
Since the game had just ended and the locker room was open for media availability, Rivers had to digest rumors of the trade in real time.
“It’s definitely disappointing because I really saw coming into this situation, ‘man, I really could be a difference maker.' I still believe that to this day even though it didn’t work out for the best,” Rivers said. “I do believe I could’ve made a difference here, especially if we would’ve made it to the postseason. I know I could’ve turned up then because I’ve done that time and time again. They got to do what they got to do. At the end of the day, as a player you can only control what you can control.
“I really don’t have a lot to say right now. I’m trying to figure out my life right now. I just moved. So, you know, imagine what my kid and my girl — I’m trying to figure this out. I only have a year left on my deal anyway. It’s more so, you want things to work. They traded for me for a reason."
That reason was to provide a scoring punch, which Rivers did through the night by hitting 5 of 10 shots and three three-pointers against the Nets. However, offensive execution hasn’t been the team’s problem. Washington shot 54 percent but needed better effort on the boards and to defend without fouling.
The Wizards (11-18), still searching for someone to give a care in the paint, allowed the first 2 ½ minutes of the game to expire without grabbing a single rebound. As the game went on, so did their passive exertion and Brooklyn dominated with a 46-25 rebounding margin. The Wizards fell to 5-17 when they have been out-rebounded.
Although the Wizards couldn’t make the Nets miss nearly enough (52.4 percent) nor secure rebounds, they still clawed back from a 16-point deficit. With 5:33 remaining in the game, Bradley Beal (a game-high 31 points) hit a leaning jumper off glass and cut the lead to 108-104. The teams traded shots for a stretch but, while still trailing by four, Washington lost its comeback bid by sending the Nets to the free throw line on three consecutive possessions. The free throw shooting followed by Joe Harris’s three-pointer, made after crisp ball movement and little resistance in front of him, gave Brooklyn a lead it wouldn’t relinquish.
Little did the Wizards know that moment would be the least dramatic turn of the night.
“I got out the shower and somebody told me I was traded,” Rivers said.
Then, suddenly, he wasn’t.
Read more on the Washington Wizards: