1 year later: The 'awkward' NBA trade that never happened due to last names

This weekend marks a year since the battle of the Brooks ruined a 3-team trade

Michael C. Wright

Michael C. Wright NBA.com

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Dec 12, 2019 11:50 AM ET

Dillon Brooks (left) and MarShon Brooks were trending on social media after their last names led to a failed trade.

As he relived the bizarre trade involving Phoenix, Memphis and Washington that fell apart one year ago due to a misunderstanding among the teams regarding players with the same last name (Brooks), Trevor Ariza -- the centerpiece of the deal -- found humor in it all.

“The trade happened,” a still-laughing Ariza told NBA.com. “And then, it didn’t happen.”

Honest mistake, they all say now.

The aborted trade involving Ariza, a 15-year vet who's played for eight teams, didn’t register as the most peculiar transaction he’d seen. Playing for the New Orleans Hornets during the 2011-12 season, Ariza watched as a trade that would have sent Chris Paul to the Los Angeles Lakers failed to manifest.

“That situation was a little different than this one, but still that trade didn’t go through,” Ariza said.

Like that ill-fated move in December of 2011, this one played out in real time on social media for all the world to see.

Trevor Ariza (left) and Chris Paul have been a part of the two viral trades that never happened this decade.

Word first started to spread on Dec. 14 through a series of tweets that jumped across the timelines of NBA fans. ESPN reported the Grizzlies had agreed to join a three-way trade between the Suns and Wizards.

The Suns would send Ariza to the Wizards.

The Wizards would send Austin Rivers to the Suns and Kelly Oubre Jr. to Memphis. 

But the wheels would quickly fall off due to a misunderstanding among the teams about the player Memphis would need to add to the transaction to meet salary-cap requirements. Phoenix reportedly expected to acquire Dillon Brooks from Memphis, along with Wayne Selden and Washington’s Rivers in the deal.

Yet Memphis insisted it never had plans to trade Dillon Brooks. Instead, the Grizzlies wanted to move MarShon Brooks along with Selden. The Grizzlies declined to participate in the trade under any other parameters. So they eventually pulled out of talks, ultimately forcing Washington to deal directly with Phoenix to acquire Ariza in exchange for Rivers and Oubre.

As the drama behind the scenes played out, reports would continue to surface on Twitter for what turned out to be one of the most bizarre trades in history to never actually happen.

As MarShon Brooks watched from the Memphis bench after playing 16 minutes in the team’s loss against Miami that night, word started to spread. 

Former Memphis general manager Chris Wallace reportedly told MarShon and Selden after the game they were part of a three-team trade that would bring Wizards wing Oubre to Memphis.

“Then, after that conversation, we were told that the trade didn’t go through,” a Grizzlies source said. “So then, we had to go in and have a second conversation and basically apologize that it happened that way. It’s a tough situation, and you could see it in the guys’ faces.”

Wallace didn’t respond to messages seeking comment, but in the immediate aftermath of the failed trade, he blamed media leaks from the Wizards and Suns for what transpired. A member of the Phoenix Suns' front office, when contacted, declined comment.

... it made things awkward a bit."

Grizzlies forward Dillon Brooks

Dillon Brooks still cringes when discussing the situation that he says taught him the NBA is “a cutthroat league.” Dillon said he found out about the trade from voices in the crowd at the FedExForum that night.

“I was shocked when that came out,” Brooks told NBA.com. “I guess it was the wrong Brooks. We had two Brooks at the time, but they ended up clearing it up. [Wallace] ended up coming to me and saying, ‘You know, we didn’t trade you. It was the wrong name.’ He was on the phone for about 20 or 30 minutes I guess with Phoenix. But it made things awkward a bit. Luckily, MarShon was a vet and never took it the wrong way. Sometimes you get hard feelings or whatever. But we talked about it, and we both thought it was funny. We both moved on.” 

Memphis ended up sending MarShon and Selden to the Chicago Bulls along with two future second-round picks for Justin Holiday. The Bulls then waived MarShon on Jan. 7, and he eventually signed with the Guangdong Southern Tigers of the Chinese Basketball Association, where he won a championship. 

MarShon Brooks (left) and Wayne Selden were eventually traded to Chicago.

MarShon Brooks’ agent, Wallace Prather, called the situation an “honest mistake.” Having worked as an NBA agent since 2001, Prather once represented a pair of clients -- Donta Smith and Josh Smith in Atlanta -- with the same last names, but he’d never experienced a failed trade like this one.

“Memphis, they were talking about MarShon and the other team was talking about Dillon,” Prather said. “No one actually said ‘Dillon’ or ‘MarShon’ in the conversation. So, when it was time to move, Chris Wallace had pulled MarShon to the side to let him know. But I guess at the last minute when they were doing the trade call, they were calling out the names and were like, ‘Whoa, whoa, not that Brooks.’ They definitely [expletive] up." 

While it’s been reported that former Wizards GM Ernie Grunfeld served as the middleman and point of contact in the failed transaction between the teams, current Washington GM Tommy Sheppard disputes that characterization. Grunfeld didn’t respond to a voicemail seeking comment. 

Sheppard, meanwhile, explained that in three-way deals, usually the teams acquiring players or compensation from one another remain in direct contact, saying, “the third team rarely talks to the first team.”

In this case, Sheppard said that all the teams involved were aware of all the parameters of the proposed deal, but none of the teams “were running quarterback.”

Sheppard would find himself in damage-control mode, too.

That night the Wizards were on the road playing the Brooklyn Nets. At the time, Sheppard worked as Washington’s senior vice president of basketball operations, while Grunfeld served as the GM. 

... they were calling out the names and were like, ‘Whoa, whoa, not that Brooks.’"

MarShon Brooks' agent Wallace Prather

“I knew we were gonna do something, so I went with the team to tell the players because it’s an absolute travesty for a player to hear [about a trade] from anybody else than his own front office,” Sheppard told NBA.com. “I knew we were gonna make a trade."

Once the proposed three-team deal was reduced to rubble, Sheppard joined the Wizards on the team bus to explain what was happening. But the players already knew about the trade as Washington left the Barclays Center for the airport.

Still, Sheppard pulled Oubre and Rivers off the bus to give them the lowdown. 

“I told them, ‘Guys, this is [expletive] up. But you will be traded tomorrow, make no mistake,’” Sheppard said. “They got off the bus as it was breaking, everything was falling apart, and it was awkward as [expletive]. The trade fell through. That doesn’t mean that we can’t be professionals. I said, ‘Hey guys, this is exactly what happened.’ For Austin, Phoenix was like, ‘Don’t even come.’ They didn’t want him. It ended up great for him because he got to Houston.

“For Kelly, he found a home in Phoenix, and they actually gave him another contract. For us, we ended up with Ariza’s money coming off, and we moved forward. We had a couple of other teams we were looking at doing stuff [with], but we hit back with Phoenix because Phoenix really just wanted off Ariza. And we said we could do these deals without the Memphis piece. Memphis was involved because they wanted Oubre.”

... common sense says to always refer to them with the first name."

Wizards GM Tommy Sheppard

Sheppard said he’ll go to his grave believing it was just an honest mistake, but added that miscommunication regarding two players with the same last name shouldn’t have been the issue.

“I know that if there are ever guys with the same last names, common sense says to always refer to them with the first name,” Sheppard said. “And I know we never, ever, and this isn’t an exoneration at all, I’m just saying that any conversations we had with Memphis, there was never MarShon Brooks' name not once mentioned.”

Regardless, the human element of these transactions always comes into play.

The decision-makers are human, thus prone to human error, and that ultimately affects the human lives of the players and their families.

“I think MarShon’s friends and family were more upset than I was and more upset than he was,” Prather said. 

Dillon Brooks pointed to the situation as a lesson that stresses “you never know what’s going to happen, even if you’re working hard and playing hard.”

Dillon Brooks speaks with former head coach J.B. Bickerstaff on the sidelines.

J.B. Bickerstaff, Memphis’ coach at the time, declined to comment specifically about that situation but shared insights regarding the human element associated with transactional decisions. 

“Things like how long guys have been there, the relationship that you have with their families, those types of things always play a part because the decision-makers are human, too,” said Bickerstaff, who is now the associate head coach for the Cleveland Cavaliers. 

Memphis terminated Bickerstaff in April and demoted Wallace from GM to scout. The Wizards fired Grunfeld in April, replacing him with Sheppard.

“I guess the untold story in that deal, or the given in that deal is the GMs all lost their jobs,” Sheppard said.

As for Ariza? 

"That’s just the way it is," he said about the business and being traded. "It’s hard on families, especially when you have little children and they’re getting moved around like that.

“It is what it is, but it’s what we signed up for."

* * *

Michael C. Wright is a senior writer for NBA.com. You can e-mail him here , find his archive here  and follow him on Twitter .

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