7. Rockets acquire Otis Thorpe from the Sacramento Kings - 10/12/88
Rockets acquire: PF Otis Thorpe
Kings acquire: F Rodney McCray, F & C Jim Peterson
In the late 1980s, the Houston Rockets were looking to remake their roster, as the former 1986 NBA Finals team was falling apart due to injury and personal issues. As such, they traded double-digit scorer Rodney McCray, who had spent all five years of his career with the Rockets to that point, and serviceable big man Jim Peterson to the Sacramento Kings for rugged power forward Otis Thorpe, who was coming off of the highest-scoring season of his career.
Thorpe was immediately slotted in on Houston’s front line alongside Hakeem Olajuwon, and his rebounding, defense, and hard-nosed tenacity immediately jelled alongside Dream. OT’s incredible strength allowed him to defend not just fellow power forwards, but also centers, despite being listed at just 6’9”. That versatility helped free up Hakeem to become the most devastating and intimidating shot blocker the modern game has seen. With Thorpe’s sturdy presence backing him up in the paint, Olajuwon was free to roam and create havoc.
In his first season with the Rockets, OT went for 16.7 points and 9.6 rebounds while shooting 54 percent from the field, mostly on thunderous dunks and put backs. He also played in all 82 games, which would become routine for him. He started in 82 contests in five of his seven seasons in the ketchup and mustards and was a true iron man of the sport. If you include his time spent in Sacramento, he played in 542 consecutive games at one point.
When the Rockets traded for him, then coach Don Chaney predicted great things for OT, saying, “When I arrived, I felt the team needed a shooting guard and a power forward. Otis Thorpe fills the forward spot. He has the potential to become an All-Star.” Thorpe fulfilled that prediction in 1992 when snagged the first and only All-Star appearance in his career.
He averaged 17.3 points, 10.5 rebounds, and 3.0 assists per game to go along with 59.2 percent shooting from the field in what was perhaps his finest overall season statistically. The Rockets failed to make the playoffs that year, however, and after Chaney was replaced by Rudy Tomjanovich, Thorpe’s role changed a bit moving forward.
He was playing less minutes per game (and as a result, scoring less), as Rudy redesigned the offense with three-point shooters around Hakeem. And though Thorpe was still playing 30-plus most nights, both Roberty Horry and Matt Bullard began to see time as early versions of the modern stretch four.
That isn’t to say Thorpe wasn’t still a beast in the paint. He averaged 14 points and a career-high 10.6 rebounds per game in the 1993-1994 season, and he was a key component in the Rockets taking home the NBA title at year’s end for his one and only championship ring.
He was particularly effective against Utah and Phoenix in the first two rounds of the ’94 playoffs, scoring double-digit points in nine straight contests, and his tough-minded play was of great importance to the Rockets in their knock-down, drag-out, seven-game finals series against the New York Knicks. Thorpe grabbed double-digit boards in five out of the seven games in the Finals.
Unfortunately, OT wouldn’t be around for the second ring, as he was traded midseason the following year to the Portland Trail Blazers for Clyde Drexler, in a trade you’ll hear more about later in our series.
He also spent time with the Detroit Pistons, Vancouver Grizzlies, Washington Wizards, Miami Heat, and Charlotte Hornets, and even went back to Sacramento for 27 games in the 1997-1998 season. He managed to maintain some level of effectiveness even late into his career, averaging double-digit points through 1998-1999 before finally retiring in 2001.
Thorpe will always be remembered for his contributions to the first Rockets title, and he was a huge part of the team’s identity in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s. He was also a crowd favorite who was extremely well-liked by players, fans, and coaches, who all appreciated his no-nonsense demeanor, quiet temperament off the court, and determined play on the court.
His final stats in his seven seasons as a Houston Rocket show 15.8 points, 9.7 rebounds, and 2.6 assists per game. He shot 55.9 percent from the field and was, at one point, the franchise’s all-time leader in field goal percentage.
He capped his career off with an All-Star game, a title ring, and now, an appearance at number seven on our Top 10 Rockets Trades of All Time list.