A trade can make or break a career. Part of it is basketball fit – think Draymond Green here. The Warriors bring out his strengths and cover up his weakness. But another part is opportunity. You just don’t get the minutes and touches to do all you can do. In that department, Dennis Hopson possibly got the roughest deal in NBA history.
Hopson was the 3rd pick of the 1987 Draft, selected by the New Jersey Nets. In his first three seasons, Hopson did exactly what you hoped a guy with potential would do – he got better each season, in practically every aspect of the game. Points per game, rebounds, field goal percentage; you name it, the number went up. Then he got the worst news a shooting guard could get in the 90s. “We traded you to the Bulls.”
“Me and Bill Fitch [Nets coach], we didn’t see eye to eye. We didn’t get along at all. I thought that was my best season, led the team in scoring, and just getting a good feel for the game. Kinda’ growing into my own. For him to trade me because of the relationship, OK. I’m OK with that. But to trade me to Chicago, I wasn’t OK with that.”Dennis Hopson
Before “The Last Dance,” you may think only a crazy guy wouldn’t want to be on the 90s Bulls. The documentary revealed it wasn’t easy playing with Michael Jordan. But this wasn’t about the challenge for Hopson. He was OK with expectations. This was about a lack of opportunity. Hopson knew he’s fighting for minutes with the greatest player ever to play the game.
“It was said that we would be able to play together a lot because Michael would move over to the point guard position. We played a couple of games together, but no major minutes. What was said didn’t actually happen, and even when it was said, I didn’t believe that it would happen.”Dennis Hopson
Hopson understood BJ Armstrong and Jon Paxson were playing well at the PG position, and that he was destined to come off the bench. At that point in a player’s career, no amount of practice can replace playing in the game, even if those are famous MJ practices. Of course, the silver lining for Hopson is the fact he became an NBA champion that year.
It’s not like Jordan didn’t want Hopson in Chicago. MJ actually gave up some money to make the cap math work, and the Bulls could pull the trigger on the trade. Hopson says Jordan was always cool, and they had a good relationship during his time with the Bulls.
After the Bulls, Hopson spent a year with the Kings, where he got more minutes and felt rejuvenated. His performance earned him a contract offer from the Kings, but Hopson, unfortunately, followed his agent’s advice and ended up overseas. A move he regrets to this day.