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Emotions overcame Kelly Oubre Jr. as he checked into the game for the Phoenix Suns on Saturday in front of the raucous crowd at Capital One Arena. He would be playing his first game in front of fans that had come to grow and love him over the last three and a half seasons.
Oubre had made the rounds of talking to former team employees, arena ushers, and fans before the game but he did not know what the reception would be. In the end, he didn’t need to worry.
“It is love, man,” Oubre said after the game from the visitor’s locker room. “Love everybody in D.C, who genuinely rooted for me to succeed and I appreciate the love. You cannot really ask for anything more than that. That is kind of a moment that I will cherish forever and I will remember that forever.”
The day before, Kelly had spent time in his D.C. apartment to pack up his belongings and to spend time with his two French bulldogs, Saint and Soul, who are being watched by Oubre’s girlfriend. As Oubre sat down and turned on the TV on his couch, a wave of clarity hit him: “I was watching TV and I was like, ‘Damn! I don’t really live here no more!”
He has yet to settle in Phoenix as the Suns are in a midst of an east coast road trip and will not head back to Arizona until after their game against the Orlando Magic the day after Christmas.
Such is the life of an NBA player, who can be traded to a different team and have to pick up their lives in a moment’s notice.
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On the receiving end of the trade with the Suns, the Wizards brought back Trevor Ariza who had already had a stint with the team from 2012-14. Ariza, 33, is married with kids who are in school, making his transition a little bit more difficult on him and his family than the 23-year-old Oubre. Ariza decided to not uproot his three kids from school, allowing them to finish out the school year on the west coast, while he lives out of a suitcase for the time being.
Ariza’s life has been a balancing act. The team is requiring him not only to immediately contribute on the court while he adjusts to D.C. again but to hold his star teammates accountable with his leadership. It took Ariza less than a week on his current tenure as a Wizard to begin echoing the common criticisms of the team.
“Basketball is a game of mistakes and we know that we can make mistakes, but things that you can’t do is lack effort,” Ariza said after the Wizards gave up an NBA record 26 three pointers to the Houston Rockets last week. “We lack effort. A lot.”
Playing hard has never been a problem for Ariza. In four games, he is averaging 3.3 steals per contest, which would lead the NBA if extrapolated out for the rest of the season. Ariza has a feel for the defensive end that can not be taught and he uses his instincts and knowledge of the game to constantly put himself in the right position on the defensive end, something Oubre never really seemed to fully grasp as a Wizard.
Coach Scott Brooks has made it clear that he wants players who provide maximum effort on a regular basis. Washington also added two other high-energy and hustle players in Sam Dekker via trade and Ron Baker, who the team signed after being cut by the New York Knicks.
Dekker has been able to find downtown apartment accommodations since being acquired on Dec. 7, while Baker had go to the minimalist route. He packed extremely light after shipping all of his belongings from New York City to Wichita, Kansas, near where he grew up. “I only have one coat and pair of Nike shoes,” Baker explains. “Hopefully that snow stays away for a while until I get to that department store, I guess.”
Both players have been thrust into playing time a lot sooner than either one expected, but are gracefully navigating their roles on their new teams. Dekker and Baker have a long way to go in earning the adoration of Washington fans as adopted son Oubre did, and Dekker even took to Twitter after the thrilling triple overtime win against the Suns to respond to a popular Wizards blogger about how much playing time he actually deserved.
While Dekker has not exhibited the skill level that made him a first round draft pick in 2015, good things tend to happen to him in the game for simply running the court hard and cutting to the basket. Dekker has proven to be adept at finishing around the basket as he has hit on 75 percent of his shots within three feet of the basket in his eight games as a Wizard.
Dekker, Baker, and Ariza can not replace what Oubre meant to the Washington community, but they each bring positive attributes to the table and will help the Wizards on the court. Washington lost to the Indiana Pacers on Dec. 23, the second night of a back-to-back, which dropped their record to 13-21 on the season.
A little over a week after the Suns and Wizards made one of the more unique recent NBA trades, the two teams are forging ahead with new players on their rosters. But Oubre’s path remains on the same course as before, despite his change of scenery.
“I really grew here. I really grew as a person, like mentally, physical and spiritually,” Oubre says. “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.”
Photo by Keith Allison on Flickr, used under the Creative Commons BY-SA 2.0 license.