The Washington Wizards were determined to get swingman Trevor Ariza. Even if that meant entering into a three-team deal Friday night that would later unravel into an unsightly mess. Even if they had to sacrifice the athleticism and upside of a 23-year-old who was still months away from potentially leaving. And even if they had to give up on the veteran guard acquired via trade last summer to improve the chemistry in the locker room.
Wizards Team President Ernie Grunfeld went for it Saturday, reaching an agreement with the Phoenix Suns to land Ariza for Kelly Oubre Jr. and Austin Rivers.
“One of the best veteran teammates I’ve had,” John Wall said of Ariza, 33, who previously played in Washington from 2012-14. “It’s just great. Especially a guy who won a championship. You get more from what he understands and what it takes.
“Guys need that.”
Washington, occupying the 11th spot in the conference only because the bottom of the East is laughably bad, will finalize the deal Monday. The Wizards engaged in talks with the Suns for several days before finally landing the 15-year-veteran. He will be a defensive upgrade they believe can help turn around the spiraling 11-18 season and the veteran voice that even their all-stars will hear.
“Everybody has to be held accountable. No matter if it’s me, John, all the way down the line. We all have to be held accountable. No man is better than the next man,” Bradley Beal said. “I don’t think it’s a matter of necessarily bringing Trev in to say that’s what we need, but it does help.”
The Wizards had to endure an awful lot over the weekend just to get the 33-year-old Ariza.
On Friday night, the Wizards, Suns and Memphis Grizzlies came to an agreement on a three-team deal that would have sent Oubre to Memphis and Rivers to Phoenix for Ariza, with several other players and draft picks included. However, the deal crumbled late into the night. Though breakdowns are not unprecedented in multi-team trades, the context behind the dead deal — teams backed away because there was confusion over which"Brooks” on the Grizzlies' roster, Dillon or MarShon, would be involved in the trade to Phoenix — became a punchline over social media.
“Well, officially, I guess when they were discussing the trade, they were just saying ‘Brooks,’ and because Memphis has two Brooks, there was a mix-up on which Brooks they were talking about,” said Wallace Prather, the agent for MarShon Brooks.
According to one person with knowledge of the negotiations, the Grizzlies and Suns had talked directly for at least a week about a deal centered on Grizzlies second-year player Dillon Brooks. Prather said he was later told Washington entered the picture for the purpose of getting Ariza, and the team served as the conduit between Memphis and Phoenix. Another league source backed up Prather’s account and expressed a theory as to how the trade was rushed so players could be informed immediately following their games. Both Washington and Memphis played Friday night.
“It was an innocent thing,” said an agent with a player involved in the original deal. “You’ve got teams that are trying to get better. There were some oversights because it was hasty.”
Before the three teams could conference on a call, the Brooks in the deal was revealed to be MarShon, not Dillon. The deal was off, and on the Wizards' charter bus, players couldn’t believe the madness.
“It was kind of weird. Kind of difficult,” said Wall, who described hearing the initial trade news by a team public relations staffer who had read a tweet from an ESPN reporter. “When it went dead, we were all like, ‘What in the world? I’ve never seen this happen before. How do you [mistake] not knowing the team got two Brooks?’ It’s kind of funny.”
Beal added: “It’s crazy. It’s kind of unreal in a way. You don’t see that a lot. I kind of feel for Kelly and Austin to be kind of put in that way trick bag in a way in not knowing what the hell is going on.”
Beneath the chaos and the crazy is the business of basketball, and the Wizards appear to have made yet another financial decision to get closer to the luxury tax line.
A straight-up deal of Oubre and Rivers for Ariza, who’s making $15 million in an expiring deal, will have nearly matching salaries, however the Wizards will cut about $859,000 in salary, according to Eric Pincus, a salary cap expert at Bleacher Report. With that, the team drops from roughly $9.77 million over the luxury tax threshold to $8.26 million. This move follows the Jason Smith-Sam Dekker trade from last week that served a similar purpose for the team’s payroll.
Oubre, 23, was averaging a career-high 12.9 points in 26 minutes per game for the Wizards this season, his fourth and final year of his contract. Though Oubre developed with the Wizards much like previous first-round picks who received maximum contracts, he was not going to receive a lucrative deal from a team floundering in the red.
“We’re in a tough bind. Three guys that’s pretty paid pretty high,” Wall said, mentioning himself, Beal and Otto Porter Jr. “And understanding that Kelly’s probably going to get or receive or ask for this summer, I don’t think we have the money to match it, so I think that’s the reason why we made this trade.”
Rivers, 26, averaged 7.2 points in 23.6 minutes and never quite fit in although when the Wizards traded Marcin Gortat for him, they believed team chemistry would improve. It did not.
So with Oubre on his way out and the Rivers’s experiment cast aside, the Wizards looked to their past to help salvage the present.
Ariza’s history in Washington coincided with the growth of Wall and Beal and should hark back to better days when the company slogan of “DC Rising” inspired hope. In Phoenix, Ariza averaged 9.9 points, 5.6 rebounds and a team-high 1.46 steals in 34 minutes per game and, despite the Suns' struggles, he remained a valuable “three-and-D” presence on the perimeter. And the one the Wizards wanted.
“That’s the kind of guy he is. He’s vocal and he’s not afraid to voice his opinion and call guys out and hold guys accountable” Beal said. “He definitely brings that presence we need and a challenge that we need as well.”
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