The Phoenix Suns trading Trevor Ariza to the Washington Wizards was one of the most bizarre deals in recent memory, as the original trade was a three-team deal that fell apart because no one could agree on which Memphis player with the last name Brooks was supposed to be included.
Once that trade broke down and was deemed “dead,” there was an air of confusion around the league and frustration from the parties involved. Kelly Oubre Jr. and Austin Rivers had said their goodbyes in the Washington locker room already, only to find out they were, at least briefly, sticking around. Dillon Brooks was appreciative of the vote of support he received from the Grizzlies refusing to deal him, but MarShon Brooks was left to deal with the result of learning he was not quite as wanted.
And then there was Ariza, who thought he was finally escaping Phoenix, a team that never made sense for the veteran wing to join when he signed his one-year, $15 million deal in the offseason. On Sunday, the Wizards and Suns agreed to cut the Grizzlies out and just do the deal with the same pieces from the three-teamer, with Rivers and Oubre going to Phoenix for Ariza. It was a bit strange, considering they had involved Memphis for a reason in initial talks and one would assume that was because the Suns didn’t really want that package.
The Suns’ decision-making in this trade has only gotten more curious as the deal became official with a trade call on Monday and word broke that Rivers was being waived by Phoenix to let him hit the free agent market and sign with a contender — funny enough, he’s expected to join Memphis.
Ariza wasn’t having a spectacular season in Phoenix by any stretch of the imagination, but given how critical he was to Houston’s success last year (and how obvious it’s been the Rockets miss him currently) it’s stunning that the Suns would be so quick to just cobble together a new deal. The Suns briefly discussed a deal with the Lakers after the deal fell through, but didn’t seem to consider simply holding on to Ariza and waiting for more teams to realize they need a player like him for the playoff push. While December 15 was an important date in being the first day he could be dealt, it was far from a hard deadline for the Suns needing to move him.
And yet, that appears to have been how Phoenix was treating it. We’d heard rumors for well over a week that the Suns were discussing deals for Ariza in anticipation of the 15th, and were seeking either point guard help, a draft pick, or both. When the deal they decided on fell through, they scrambled to get something done almost immediately without resetting, and ended up with neither of those things. Maybe it’s the product of having a young and inexperienced GM in James Jones or an owner in Robert Sarver that was insistent on the move happening immediately, but it also could be an indicator that they felt having Ariza around any longer could’ve been to the detriment of the team.
Ariza has never had a reputation for being a disgruntled veteran — far from it, actually, as he’s considered a great teammate — but being on a losing team can wear on a player, especially one going from a near-Finals appearance to the worst team in the West. On Tuesday, Ariza met with the media in Washington for the first time and hinted at that being the case. He noted that while the Wizards have certainly been going through tough times, it was nothing like what he just left in Phoenix.
That’s not exactly a glowing review of the Suns organization, and doesn’t come as a tremendous surprise. There haven’t been many that have left the desert in recent years that have had all that many good things to say about the franchise, and while new coach Igor Kokoskov is trying to build a better culture, it’s a work in progress.
All that said, it’s hard to feel too bad for Ariza. He signed there this offseason, eager to secure the bag and hit free agency again in 2019 when more teams have space. It was a wise financial move, but the risk the Suns would not be any better this year was always there. We don’t know what agreements the Suns had made with Ariza before he signed. For all we know — and this is purely speculative — there was always an understanding that he’d come in, help out as he could for camp and the start of the season and once Dec. 15 hit, the Suns would try to move him ASAP. Even so, the Suns probably should’ve hit the reset button once the original trade fell through and tried to find an alternative route than taking a package they didn’t want originally, even at the risk of Ariza voicing his displeasure with his situation publicly.
One thing that has become abundantly clear in Phoenix is that Jones will, at the very least, try to do right by veterans. He acted swiftly to get Tyson Chandler bought out and to the Lakers. He scrambled to get Ariza dealt this weekend when he clearly wanted out, and he paid Rivers his full buyout in December to allow him to head to a contender.
That all could be wise posturing in the long-term by a GM that realizes building positive relationships with those agents is important. That’d certainly be the optimistic view of what’s happening in Phoenix. The pessimistic view is that a young GM who likely relates to those veterans more than anyone else this closely removed from his career isn’t always acting in the best interests of the team to do right by a few individuals. There’s a delicate balance between those two things, and it’s not always immediately known if a front office is toeing that line well or not.
We’ll find out if it’s all part of a fruitful long con as the years come to pass, but right now the Ariza deal is just the latest eyebrow raising move over a curious few months in Phoenix.