The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

For NBA players, navigating in-season trades can be a little tricky

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When the Phoenix Suns arrived in the District on Thursday night, most of the players settled into their luxury five-star hotel rooms. Not Kelly Oubre Jr.

Unlike his teammates, he’s paying rent in Washington. His daring fashion pieces are stored away here. His two French Bulldogs, Saint and Soul, and most of his belongings from the past 3 1/2 years are still here.

However, Oubre, who was traded by the Washington Wizards to the Suns last weekend, is no longer a D.C. resident. The strangeness of this fact washed over him while resting in his apartment during a short visit as part of the Suns' four-game Eastern Conference trip.

“It’s a little weird,” Oubre recalled Friday after his team’s practice. “I was watching TV and I was like, ‘Damn! I don’t really live here no more!’ So yeah, man.”

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There have been six trades so far during the 2018-19 season. Even more players have been waived. Though these deals are common transactions over the course of the league calendar, the players involved try to keep it business as usual while dealing with the transition of packing up their lives at a moment’s notice.

“You just got to get acclimated to change,” Oubre said.

Oubre still hasn’t set foot in Phoenix, his new home for at least the next four months. Ron Baker, the newest Washington player who practiced with the team Friday, likely has to go shopping because all of his clothes are 1,400 miles away. Trevor Ariza, who swapped places with Oubre in the deal that became official Monday, is living out of a suitcase, packed with only the essentials, in his D.C. hotel room.

“What you take is what you need, and obviously you need jackets here,” said Ariza, a veteran of three in-season trades. “I’ve been on the East before now. So I know what it’s like. Bring jackets, bring sweatpants, my Timbs and I’m out here.”

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Ariza knew last weekend he was likely to be traded. The Wizards' initial foray to land him, a three-team deal reported Dec. 14, fell apart before the team renewed talks with the Suns a day later. Ariza had already returned to his home base of Los Angeles. He knew he would be moving on but didn’t know the location. Though Ariza is fond of Washington — he played with the Wizards from 2012-14 — his young family was set to remain on the West Coast. Ariza has three children and he did not want to uproot their lives.

“My kids are in school. That’s the toughest part about everything,” Ariza said. “Having to move your family all over the place. Once your kids are in school, it’s hard to change their life as well because you want them to have stability.”

Ariza’s life has been anything but stable since last weekend. He took a cross-country flight from Los Angeles to Washington just to undergo a physical, and by Monday afternoon Ariza was on the team charter heading to Atlanta. Then it was off to Houston for a back-to-back before finally returning to his downtown D.C. hotel room.

“I’ve been on a lot of planes lately,” he said.

When the New York Knicks waived Baker on Dec. 13, he assumed he could be out of work for as long as a month. So Baker boxed up his apartment and shipped his car, clothes and shoes to Wichita. However, Baker spent less than a week as a free agent before signing with the Wizards. While he scurried to Washington for his first workout, his belongings had just arrived to Kansas.

“I only have one coat and one pair of Nike shoes,” said Baker, wearing a Wizards’ practice uniform which may be one of the few complete outfits he has in his possession. “So hopefully that snow stays away for a while until I get to the department store.”

Coach Scott Brooks has an old-school attitude about the impact a trade has on a player. He’ll play the world’s smallest violin for any player who complains about the adjustment — “I always put everything in perspective,” Brooks said. “It’s a great life.”

However, during his playing days, Brooks was once traded at halftime of a Houston Rockets game and his first panicked thoughts reflected what might go through any employee’s mind after a sudden job relocation.

“‘I knew I should’ve rented!’” recalled Brooks, who at the time had just purchased a home in Houston.

In that sense, Oubre one-upped his former coach. He can still try to get out of a lease while finding a new place in Phoenix.

Though Oubre was blindsided by the trade — “It was crazy,” Oubre said about hearing the reports moments after playing a game in Brooklyn. “It was hectic. The first time I felt that was on draft night, not really knowing what’s going on. Not really knowing where I’m going to go. It hit me by surprise, obviously.”

With the help of his inner circle, he has managed the change. Oubre’s girlfriend is taking care of Saint and Soul (“She’s a soldier,” he said) while her family, who happened to be in Washington when the trade happened, has helped with the transition. After Saturday night’s game against Washington, the Suns have a quick turnaround for a back-to-back against the Brooklyn Nets. At this rate, Oubre will have seen the Nets visitors’ locker room more times this year than his new temporary home in Phoenix, a city he hasn’t visited since last December as a member of the Wizards.

Oubre, however, is not grumbling. Though he had short words for the Wizards’ front office when asked why he felt he was traded (“Nope. Keep it at that.”), Oubre shared fond memories of his time in Washington.

“I really grew here. I really grew as a person, like mentally, physical and spiritually,” Oubre said. “Just coming back — really, I haven’t gone anywhere, let’s be honest. But just coming back to the places where I grew, it’s a little different for me. But I’m the same individual, so my path stays the same no matter where I’m at.”

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