There comes a time for many NBA stars where they are forced to make a decision: Retire early and go out while at the top of their game? Or try to fight father time and continue their careers as a bench-player? This isn't true for all players, however, as some choose to come off the bench for their own personal reasons (i.e., join a better team in pursuit of championship; play less minutes to preserve their legs/endurance; or even just providing veteran leadership in exchange for another paycheck). Whatever the reason is, it's sometimes difficult for fans to see one of their favorite players get relegated to a reserve role.
In compiling this list, it was necessary to take an in-depth look into each NBA team's current depth charts to determine which former stars are now reserve players. Many of these stars are older players who are trying to squeeze out a few remaining years in the league, while others are younger players who have recently seen their prestige drop and were forced to accept lesser roles to remain in the NBA. Several of the players on this list were forced into bench roles and have found themselves flourishing, but others are struggling to make the transition from stardom to riding the pine.
All the players listed below are in different situations in terms of their career, but they all currently have one thing in common; a nice seat on the bench to watch the opening tip-off. So, here are 15 former NBA stars who are bench players today.
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15 Zach Randolph
Zach Randolph (aka "Z-bo") is now in his 15th NBA season and has started nearly every game he's played in since 2002. He showed that he is truly a team-first player for the Memphis Grizzlies when he agreed to give up his starting job to the younger and more athletic JaMychal Green. Z-bo is still getting plenty of minutes off the bench and is currently averaging nearly 14 points per game, but it's still very strange seeing him as a sixth-man.
By coming off the bench and limiting his minutes, Z-bo is able to conserve his energy and be more productive in a shorter amount of time. This will not only extend his career for a few more seasons (if he so chooses), but it provides the Grizzlies with their best chance of winning right now. Plus, being the leader of the second-team for Memphis allows Z-bo to be uber-aggressive in looking for his own shot and making sure the offense goes through him on each possession. Do you, Z-bo.
14 Eric Gordon
One of the most highly touted prospects of his draft class, Eric Gordon has lived up to his potential when he's been able to stay healthy. Health, unfortunately, has been a serious issue for Gordon so far in his career and many wonder if he is capable of taking on the toll of a full 82 game season. When he's on the court, Gordon is one of the best offensive guards in the NBA and can score in bunches, evidenced by his career average of 17 ppg.
Now in his first season with the Houston Rockets, Gordon is no longer forced to takeover the offensive, as James Harden is the clear leader in Houston. What makes his situation in Houston so great, is that Gordon is able to come off the bench and provide second-team scoring that few other teams in the NBA can match-up with. The reduction in his minutes also takes less of a toll on Gordon's body, hopefully allowing him to remain healthy and productive all season. Gordon is currently averaging 17.3 points per game as a reserve for the Rockets and is the front-runner for the 2017 6th Man of the Year award.
13 David Lee
For the first couple seasons of his career, David Lee was nothing more than a solid bench player for the New York Knicks. But in 2009, Lee finally got a chance to be a full-time starter and he took advantage of his opportunity by averaging a double-double for the season. He elevated his game even more in 2010 and was named to his first all-star team, ultimately finishing the season with averages of 20.2 ppg and 11.7 rebounds.
Lee then signed an $80 million mega-deal with the Golden State Warriors where he continued his solid play and was again named to the all-star team in 2013. Lee then suffered an injury in the 2014-15 preseason and lost his starting forward position to newcomer Draymond Green. It was the first time since early on in his career that Lee was forced to come off the bench. Since then, Lee has remained a bench player for Boston, Dallas, and now San Antonio. His skills are still there, but he's best suited as a reserve at this stage of his career.
12 Devin Harris
Devin Harris was originally drafted by the Dallas Mavericks with the idea that he would develop under Mavericks point-guard Steve Nash and take over the position whenever Nash retired. Well Nash left the Mavericks in free agency and Devin Harris was thrust into the starting line-up much earlier than originally planned. He responded well and eventually became a main-piece in a trade with the New Jersey Nets that brought superstar Jason Kidd to the Mavericks.
In New Jersey, Harris grew into a star and quickly made a reputation for himself as being one of the quickest point-guards in the NBA. His quickness and tenacity allowed him to average 21 points and 7 assists per game in 2009, earning him his first and only all-star game selection. Nowadays, Harris is back in Dallas but is now the back-up to another famous Nets point-guard, Deron Williams. The two veteran stars play a pivotal role in leading the Mavericks first and second team offenses. While his quickness is fading, Harris is still one of the best back-up point guards in the NBA.
11 Roy Hibbert
As a player who has started nearly every game since his rookie season, coming off the bench had to be a foreign feeling for Roy Hibbert. While with the Indiana Pacers, Hibbert became a dominant force in the post which earned him two trips to the NBA all-star game (2010, 2014). In 2015, things began to unravel for Hibbert and it appeared the game was quickly passing him by after he was traded to the Lakers and averaged a career low 5.9 ppg.
The following free agency Hibbert signed with the Charlotte Hornets who were hoping to acquire some of the skills and magic that Hibbert showed in his time with Indiana. But so far the experiment has not worked. Hibbert is clearly no longer a starting caliber center in the NBA and is currently averaging only 5.2 ppg off the bench for the Hornets. If Hibbert can simply provide energy and size off the bench, while also protecting the rim on defense, it will make him a valuable reserve tool for years to come. His all-star days, however, are long gone.
10 Brandon Jennings
In comparison to other names on this list, Brandon Jennings isn't a big name former star. But Jennings is a player who always had star-potential and flashed it on multiple occasions during his time with the Milwaukee Bucks and Detroit Pistons. During his rookie season, Jennings averaged a respectable 15 ppg and was named to the All-NBA Rookie First Team. He continued his scoring prowess and eventually peaked in 2012 when he averaged nearly 20 ppg for the Bucks.
Jennings then made his way to Detroit where he was expected to takeover a large chunk of the scoring opportunities, but Jennings began to fall out of favor with the team and eventually found himself coming off the bench for most of the 2015-16 season. After a brief and uneventful stint with the Orlando Magic, Jennings agreed to sign with the New York Knicks in 2016 to backup point-guard Derrick Rose. Jennings has performed admirably and could benefit from Rose's injury proneness. Until then, he will continue to force shots up with the Knicks second-team offense.
9 Jason Terry
Jason "The Jet" Terry rose to stardom in the early 2000s with the Atlanta Hawks, averaging nearly 20 points per game in only his second season in the league. After his first five seasons with the Hawks, Terry was traded to the Dallas Mavericks where he suffered a regression period and failed to look like the young scorer that he was. But Terry bounced back and saw his shooting and three-point percentages rise during his time with the Mavericks.
Terry began coming off the bench in 2008-09 (in which he won the 6th Man of the Year award), so being a reserve for the Milwaukee Bucks nowadays is nothing new for Terry. What is new, is his inability to put the ball in the hole on a consistent basis. Although he can still provide the Bucks with valuable leadership, he's unable to provide much production on the court anymore and this should be his 18th and final season in the NBA.
8 Boris Diaw
This soft-spoke Frenchman has seemingly always been caught in between being a starter or being a bench player. Boris Diaw was a legitimate starter in Charlotte from 2008 to 2011, after becoming a quiet star for the old run-n-gun, Steve Nash led Phoenix Suns. He was then a spot-starter reserve for the San Antonio Spurs and continues to fill that role today with the Utah Jazz, often filling in for Gordon Heyward in the midst of his injury issues.
Diaw has never been one to wow anybody with his statistics, but given the right system and enough minutes, he is possible of putting up a triple-double on any given night. He's one of the most versatile players the league has ever seen given his size, dribbling, passing, and defensive skills. Diaw can play center one night and be the back-up point-guard the next night if need be. Although never a true starter, this former star continues to get the job done off the bench for the promising Utah Jazz.
7 Al Jefferson
Not many people will remember that Al Jefferson was one of the players that the Boston Celtics sent to the Minnesota Timberwolves for Kevin Garnett in 2007, because Jefferson was not a big name at that point in his career. However, upon joining Minnesota, Jefferson became an absolute stud in the post. In 2008, he averaged 21 points and 11.1 rebounds per game. He followed that up with a 23.1 ppg average in 2009.
What makes Jefferson so unique is that he is a true back to the basket player in that uses his footwork and moves to generate good looks, instead of using athleticism to overpower his opponents. His old-school game obviously still works in today's era as Jefferson continues to put up decent numbers. Now in Indiana, Jefferson uses his big man wisdom to average over 8 points in only 15 minutes per game off the Pacers bench. With his post-game, it's possible for Jefferson to continue that level of production for several more seasons.
6 David West
Coming out of a storied college career at Xavier, David West was drafted with the #18 pick in the 2003 draft by the then New Orleans Hornets. Equipped with one of the best mid-range games in all of the league, West began to establish himself as one of the league's best young big men. He had a rare blend of physicality and skill which resulted in him being named to the all-star team in 2008 and 2009. In those seasons, West averaged over 20 points and 9 rebounds per game.
He continued to be a dominant player after joining the Indiana Pacers in 2011, starting every game he was available for in his four seasons with the team. In 2015, West made the decision to join the San Antonio Spurs as a reserve player in pursuit of his first NBA Championship. This past offseason West again desired to sign with the team who would give him the best option to win a ring, so he signed with the Golden State Warriors. West only receives about 10 minutes per game so far in 2017, but if he finally gets a championship ring, he'll likely retire a happy man.
5 Jameer Nelson
When the Orlando Magic acquired Jameer Nelson in a draft-night trade, they believed they were gaining the services of a viable back-up for their star point-guard, Steve Francis. However, in his first season Nelson showed flashes of brilliance and was scoring in bunches off the bench. The Magic were forced to create a new lineup to make way for Nelson, so they moved Francis to shooting guard.
Nelson went on to play 10 seasons for the Magic and helped lead them to the playoffs on a consistent basis. His best season occurred in 2009 when he was voted to the all-star team, but was forced to miss the the second-half of the season due to a shoulder injury. Since leaving the Magic, Nelson enjoyed brief stints with the Mavericks and Celtics, before finding a niche with the Denver Nuggets. Ironically, it appears that the Nuggets have now found a viable back-up for their point-guard position, thus bringing Nelson's career full-circle.
4 Richard Jefferson
After being selected with the #13 overall pick in the 2001 NBA draft, Richard Jefferson quickly became a household name for New Jersey Nets fans. Although Jefferson will never be remembered for being an elite NBA player, he is surprisingly #4 on the Nets all time scoring list. Injuries became an issue for Jefferson as his career progressed, but when healthy he has always been one of the most athletic players on the court.
Jefferson also has a nice shooting touch which has allowed him to extend his career as his athleticism fades. Since being a star on the Nets, he bounced around the NBA for a few seasons before finding a solid reserve spot for the Cleveland Cavaliers. Although he has clearly lost a step, Jefferson showed glimpses during the 2016 NBA Finals with several major dunks over the Golden State Warriors. The 2016-17 season could be his last, but don't ever count out Richard Jefferson.
3 Andre Iguodala
Andre Iguodala is a bit different than many of the former stars on this list because although he now comes off the bench, Iggy is still very much a star in the NBA. Originally drafted #9 overall by the Philadelphia 76ers in the 2004 NBA draft, Iguodala quickly ascended to stardom in the city of brotherly love. By 2009, Iguodala had taken over as the face of the 76ers franchise and proceeded to average nearly 20 ppg, while also pulling in 5.5 rebounds per game and dishing out nearly 5 assists per game. He was a versatile athlete who could affect the game on both ends of the court on a nightly basis.
Although Iggy is now relegated to a bench role with the star-studded Golden State Warriors, he is still a very pivotal piece for the team and actually still averages over 25 minutes a night. In fact, Iguodala still shows flashes of his former superstar self whenever the Warriors seem to need him the most. For example, in the 2014-15 NBA Championship, it wasn't Steph Curry or Klay Thompson who was named the finals MVP, it was Iguodala. He may be coming off the bench these days, but clearly Iguodala still has the juice.
2 Paul Pierce
This 10-time NBA All-Star is a legend in the Boston area for the incredible 15 seasons he had as a member of the Boston Celtics. Paul Pierce was never much of an athlete, but he was a creative scorer with one of the purest shooting strokes in the game. There were times in his career where he would make scoring appear so effortless that it seemed like he wasn't even trying. Pierce (also known as “The Truth”) was the original piece of the Boston Big-3 that also included Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett. The trio successfully brought the championship trophy back to Boston after defeating the Los Angeles Lakers in the 2008 NBA Finals.
Nowadays, Pierce is still searching for another chance to play for a championship. He reunited with his former head coach, Doc Rivers, when he signed with the Los Angeles Clippers in 2015. His first season with the Clippers saw him play some pivotal minutes off the bench. This season, however, Pierce rarely sees the court and is only called upon during garbage time. Could this change during the playoffs when the Clippers could use a veteran off the bench? Time will tell.
1 Vince Carter
At the peak of his career, Vince Carter was arguably one of the top 5 to 10 players in the NBA. His high-flying dunks and intensity for the game made for some of the greatest highlight footage in the history of the league. The things that Carter (aka "Vinsanity") could do athletically were otherworldly and would leave other NBA caliber athletes at a loss for words. Carter wasn't just a rim-rocker either, as he could score seemingly at will in his prime. In 2004, Carter averaged 27.5 ppg, while shooting an incredible 46% from the field and 42% from three-point range.
Nowadays, it’s sometimes difficult to watch Carter play as he is just a shell of his former self. The Vinsanity days are long gone and his knees sometimes make him appear like a baby deer learning how to walk, but Carter continues to play the game that he loves and has shown no desire to quit if there is still minutes available for him. As a pure bench player now for the Grizzlies, Carter provides veteran leadership and not much else. Still, Carter is one of the most exciting players of his generation and nobody can ever take that away from him.
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