by Spencer Suk & Corey Kollbocker
You’re probably unfamiliar with a name that has quietly emerged in NBA headlines recently: Scotty Hopson.
In the past week, Hopson was traded THREE times in TWO days.
Yes, you read that correctly. The 6’7” shooting guard found his fourth home in the NBA, all in just 48 hours. He was originally sent from Cleveland to Charlotte in exchange for Brendan Haywood and the draft rights to Dwight Powell. Shortly after, the Hornets shipped him to the New Orleans Pelicans for cash considerations (let the name change confusion begin). Finally, he was sent to the Rockets as part of one of the biggest deals of the offseason, a three team trade that landed Omer Asik and Trevor Ariza with their new franchises, New Orleans and Houston respectively.
I have so many questions! Why is this guy so popular?! What could teams possibly see in a player who has appeared in only two NBA games, posting a staggering 1 point, 1 assist, and 1 steal in 7 minutes of action? But really… Who is Scotty Hopson and how the hell did we end up talking about him?
Well, the beginning of Hopson’s story is not too different than that of most NBA hopefuls. The Kentucky-born prospect remained near home, attending the University of Tennessee where he enjoyed a successful 3-year collegiate career. This stint culminated in a very productive junior year in which Hopson led the Volunteers in scoring and was named to the All-SEC first team.
His time in Tennessee was characterized by highlight plays and clutch moments, but NBA front offices didn’t deem it enough. Hopson entered the 2011 NBA Draft, but his name was never called. In an interview shortly after, Hopson described his anxiety on that night: “I didn’t land until 9:30 (p.m.), and they were on about the 20th pick. I finally got there and called my mom, who was inside, and they were on the 28th pick. I told her I was going to see how the first round goes before going in.”
Hopson never made it inside; he listened to the rest of the draft from a car. He felt the sting of going undrafted, taking it as a personal failure, apologizing to his mother for “let[ting] her down.” But by the next morning, he recognized that his goals had not changed: “I asked myself if I was going to let the critics win, and if I was gonna hang my head, put my chin on my chest and accept it. No. I’m taking the next step to become an NBA player, and I’m not going to give up.”
When there was no immediate opportunity for Hopson in the NBA, he traveled to Southeastern Europe, playing one-year stints with Kolossos Rodou, Hapoel Eilat, and Anadolu Efes.
Hopson enjoyed his most successful season with Hapoel Eilat, and his next season with Anadolu Efes was cut short due to some unbelievable news: the Cleveland Cavaliers were offering Hopson a two-year, $2.8 million contract with just a couple weeks left in the 2013-14 NBA season.
But this wasn’t your everyday contract; rather, it had a very specific structure that would make Hopson extremely tradable during the offseason. Hopson was essentially treated as a cap figure to balance out trades financially since the second year of his contract was an unguaranteed $1.45 million. In other words, teams could acquire his contract (in a trade to make salaries match), and be free to release him, paying him nothing. This would allow a team (likely the Rockets) to clear $1.45 million in cap space by acquiring Hopson.
So what makes this a success story for Hopson? I mean the guy was jerked back and forth from the D-League two times in a four-day stretch, barely played in two games for the Cavs, and was seen as expendable enough to get traded THREE times in TWO days (I still can’t get over that last fact…).
The answer is simple: Hopson received $1.35 million for the Cavaliers’ final 7 games. If that doesn’t pop out at you, let’s reframe that. The Cavs paid him approximately $192,857 per game, and he didn’t see the court in 5 of those 7 games. If you prorate Hopson’s deal over a full 82-game season, he would have made $15.8 million, which is as much as the deals set in place for Marc Gasol, Paul George, Kevin Love, and Russell Westbrook for this upcoming season.
Why were the Cavs willing to pay so much? In Hopson’s case, the more salary room he could take up in a trade (and the more salary he could allow his new team to clear by waiving him), the more valuable his salary would be.
This is wholly unique; whereas it should always be advantageous for a team to sign a player for less, in this case, it was advantageous for the team to pay more. Instead of signing Hopson for an immediate need, the Cavs were buying a bargaining chip in the form of his contract (although for the sake of their depth chart, a little of both).
So. Hopson fulfilled his dream of making the NBA. He became a millionaire in two weeks, stole NBA headlines for two days, and almost certainly made his mother proud.
Oh… and the Rockets haven’t released or traded him yet.
Whether Hopson gets another shot on the courts in the NBA or not, he should already be considered a success. Every player trying to scrap their way into the league would be happy to be the next Scotty Hopson: a man who fought for his place in the NBA and made his mark, along with a nice payday.