For some NBA players, it's simply better to quit while you're still ahead. Look at Kobe Bryant, for instance, who averaged just 17.3 points in his final NBA season, but still went out with a bang with a 60-point game. However, it's far more common for players to hang on until they're well past their prime – either the money is still too good, the love for basketball is too strong, or a little bit of both. In any case, these players can even be accused of overstaying their welcomes and preventing young players from having a spot in an NBA lineup they arguably deserve more than the old, past-their-prime veterans.
As we prepare to kick off the 2018-19 season, there are several players in the league whom you might not believe are still playing in the NBA. Some of them are currently free agents who have yet to retire, but most have signed with new teams and are guaranteed to play at least one more NBA season, barring a surprise retirement announcement between now and October. On the other hand, there are certain players who were once considered stars but are currently still starting for their respective teams (or were starting) despite being due for replacement in the starting lineup.
With those two things in mind, let's look at 15 NBA players (must be signed or a current free agent, no recently retired players or recent international signings) who ride the bench years after achieving stardom, as well as five more former or current stars who could be demoted to the bench at some point in the near future.
20 Former Star: Derrick Rose
When talking about former NBA stars who are merely bench players nowadays, you can't leave Derrick Rose out of the conversation. This was, after all, a former first overall pick who was a bonafide superstar for the Bulls and the league MVP in 2011. Unfortunately, a spate of injuries slowed him down for most of the decade, and if you come to think of it, he's merely third-string on the Timberwolves these days. And the man isn't even 30 yet!
Unless he suddenly returns to something close to his vintage form, we'd say that Rose should have retired in his 20s a la Brandon Roy rather than sully his legacy as an ex-MVP playing behind Jeff Teague and Tyus Jones.
19 Former Star: Rajon Rondo
Rondo had been fading for a few years after leaving the Boston Celtics as he failed to gel with multiple teams – the Mavericks, the Kings, and the Bulls. His one-year stint in 2017-18 with the New Orleans Pelicans seemed to give his career a new lease on life, but now it would seem that he's back to a reserve role with the Los Angeles Lakers.
Unless Lonzo Ball gets injured again or falls into a sophomore slump, Rondo will be the steady veteran hand guiding the youthful Ball as the guy who comes off the bench for him. It's a far cry from his time in Boston as a four-time All-Star, but given the much improved Lakers team he will be playing for, it could be much worse.
18 Former Star: Andre Iguodala
One can debate Iguodala's presence in the list, given how he's often been in the running as of late for Sixth Man of the Year honors, playing for the mighty Warriors. Heck, he even won Finals MVP in 2015 for his stifling defensive play on LeBron James!
That, however, is the very reason why Iguodala belongs on a list like this. He still may be one of the Warriors' most valuable players, but he hasn't averaged double figures since the 2012-13 season in Denver. He'll take the tough defensive assignments and shut your top scorer down while coming off the bench, but at this point, he's a modern-day Ron Harper as a star-turned-championship team role player.
17 Future Bench Player: Pau Gasol
He's entering what would be his 18th season in the NBA and turned 38 earlier this year. To his credit, Pau Gasol has taken longer than most NBA players to show his age, but it already is showing and the time might be right for Gregg Popovich to give him an even lesser role in 2018-19 and consider someone younger at center instead of the tested veterans he favors.
By that, we would mean giving Jakob Poeltl, who arrived in San Antonio via the Kawhi Leonard/DeMar DeRozan trade, more playing time as he enters his third year in the league. He showed some flashes of brilliance as Jonas Valanciunas' backup in Toronto, but the time looks right for him to take over as a Spur and replace Gasol as the team's starting center.
16 Former Star: Vince Carter
Does Vince Carter plan to become the Kevin Willis of the backcourt? Way back in the day, Vinsanity was all the rage, as Carter was posterizing Frederic Weis in the 2000 Olympics and reminding more than a few of a certain guy named Michael when he was playing for the Toronto Raptors. Now, this onetime super scorer is way past his best-before date, yet he'll be playing at least one more season for the Atlanta Hawks.
Not only is Carter closing in fast on his 42nd birthday. He also hasn't averaged double figures since 2013-14 or started regularly since 2011-12. He's a future Hall of Famer for sure, but he'll need to hang up those sneakers pretty soon.
15 Former Star: Richard Jefferson
For this player, you'll have to go back about a decade for the last time he was considered a "star." Richard Jefferson soldiered on for his 17th NBA season in 2017-18, and barely set foot on the court, averaging only 1.5 points per game in 20 appearances for the Denver Nuggets.
Yes, there was a time when Jefferson was more than just a deluxe role player for the teams he played for, as he averaged 22.6 points for the then-New Jersey Nets in 2007-08. For most of the years that followed, he was solid, steady, and reliable, but last year, he was barely hanging on to a job. Speaking of which, are there any teams out there still willing to sign this 38-year-old small forward mainly for his intangibles?
14 Former Star: Tony Allen
We've known for a while that Allen was getting a bit long in the tooth, but it was still a shock when, after being waived by the Memphis Grizzlies, he signed with the New Orleans Pelicans and promptly accepted a greatly reduced role behind Jrue Holiday. Prior to that, he was still starting at shooting guard for the Grizzlies, who, might we add, were still contenders in 2016-17.
Allen was then traded to the Chicago Bulls prior to the deadline, but seeing that he was out of place in an insanely youthful backcourt (Kris Dunn, Zach LaVine, Denzel Valentine, Jerian Grant, Cam Payne), he was quickly waived. Like some of the other players in this list, he remains unsigned with a month remaining before the 2018-19 season.
13 Future Bench Player: Brandon Knight
This entry bends the rules a bit, because the last time Brandon Knight was healthy, he was coming off the bench for the Suns. But prior to his trade to Houston, he was expected to start for Phoenix after missing all of 2017-18 due to injury, so we're listing him as a future bench player, and with very good reason.
Of course, that's on account of Chris Paul still playing at a high level at the age of 33 – unless CP3 gets hurt, Knight will likely be playing behind him. But even if Michael Carter-Williams relieves Paul, Knight still won't have much playing time to look forward to behind James Harden at the two.
12 Former Star: Tony Parker
An era has truly ended for the San Antonio Spurs. While Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker remained on the team for a few years after Tim Duncan's retirement, the former just recently announced his retirement, while the latter, who had just been demoted following the emergence of Dejounte Murray at point guard, had signed with the Charlotte Hornets several weeks prior.
If you're thinking Parker will return to a starting role now that he's on a weaker team, then you probably stopped watching the NBA after the Spurs last won a championship. Now entering his 19th season, the Frenchman will be coming off the bench for Kemba Walker in Charlotte, while also serving as a veteran mentor for incoming second-year guard Malik Monk.
11 Former Star: Greg Monroe
A former do-it-all center/forward with the Georgetown Hoyas, Monroe was picked seventh overall by the Pistons in the 2010 draft, and for the second to fifth years of his career, he was a quiet, but effective source of double-doubles in Detroit. He remained productive in 2015-16 after moving to the Bucks, but it's been downhill ever since then.
Last season, Monroe split time with three NBA teams – the Bucks, the Suns, and finally the Celtics – and barely averaged double figures as a reserve big man. Now in Toronto, you can pencil him in as a backup to Serge Ibaka and Jonas Valanciunas, and expect that scoring to reach single digits for the first time since his rookie year.
10 Former Star: Rudy Gay
Technically, Gay was a reserve last season for the San Antonio Spurs. But since Kawhi Leonard's move to Toronto will likely have DeMar DeRozan still playing in his natural two spot, there's a chance Gay could earn a starting job with the Spurs, temporarily disqualifying him from this list.
We say temporarily because Gay's recent injury history also means that he isn't the same player he was in Memphis, Toronto, or even in Sacramento. Gregg Popovich has a knack for finding the unlikeliest of stars, so if he finds someone who could step in or step up at the three, Gay could easily return to the bench.
9 Future Bench Player: J.J. Redick
Like some of the other of the examples in this list, Redick is a borderline case of a star player. He has, after all, averaged between 14 and 17 points per game without fail since 2012-13, and his arrival in Philadelphia last season bailed the Sixers out at shooting guard after Markelle Fultz's weird and unproductive rookie season.
While Redick will likely remain a starter to kick off the 2018-19 season, the question is for how much longer. Fultz's continued struggles could mean more court time for the 34-year-old veteran, but if he finds his form again, and we're still confident he can, Redick will have no choice but to join T.J. McConnell in the Sixers' second-string backcourt.
8 Former Star: Jason Terry
Earlier this year, Jason Terry said he has no plans to retire after the 2017-18 season. Fast forward to September 2018, the new NBA season is one month away from kicking off, and the Jet remains a man without a team, just a few days shy (as of this writing) of his 41st birthday.
Despite his advanced age, Terry still got to play 51 games for the Bucks in 2017-18, starting four games and averaging just 3.3 points in 16 minutes per game. This was once one of the best combo guards in the NBA, and he'll definitely have to face retiring from pro basketball without ever getting to play in an All-Star Game.
7 Former Star: Luol Deng
Playing for the Chicago Bulls, Deng was once one of the most underrated players in the NBA as he contributed on offense and on defense and played at a high level for most of the first decade of his career. Then the Lakers inexplicably signed him to a four-year, $72 million deal in 2016, and that's one move they certainly wish they never pulled off.
With Deng now a free agent, thanks to the Lakers' use of the waive-and-stretch provision, there's a lot of talk that he could become the latest ex-Bull to join Tom Thibodeau's Minnesota Timberwolves roster. Even then, he'll likely be relieving Andrew Wiggins at the three and his old Bulls teammate, Taj Gibson, at the four.
6 Former Star: Dwyane Wade
Despite playing alongside the man whom he teamed with for two of his three championship rings (LeBron James) and later on for the team where he won all those rings previously (the Miami Heat), Wade still had his least productive NBA season in his 15-year career. But it's hard to blame him – last season was his 15th in the league, and he will be turning 37 in January.
At the moment, there is much interest surrounding Wade as he mulls his decision as to whether he will be re-signing with the Heat or not. We're wagering that he would, but not for anything more than a farewell run of one more season before he heads into the sunset and retires.
5 Future Bench Player: Tyson Chandler
For some, it might sound like a stretch to call Chandler a star, but for what it's worth, he played in one All-Star Game and was a rebounding and defensive force for well over a decade. Unfortunately, he's turning 36 in October and will be playing in his 18th season, and it looks like the former No. 2 pick in the 2001 draft is due to come off the bench regularly for the first time since forever.
While Alex Len, who is now in Atlanta, tried and repeatedly failed to replace Chandler as the Suns' starting center, things are different now, as Phoenix picked Deandre Ayton first overall in this summer's draft. Look for the former Arizona big man to supplant Chandler much sooner rather than later.
4 Former Star: Joe Johnson
Joe Johnson is one of the few free agents on this list who isn't likely to retire in the coming months, and yes, you read that correctly. In a recent interview, the 37-year-old shooting guard said that he plans to play another one or two seasons, but as he remains unsigned with a month to go before the 2018-19 season kicks off, he might want to rethink his plans.
Just a few years ago, it was still par for the course for Johnson to flirt with or exceed 20 points in a game, but that was no longer the case in 2017-18, when he split time with the Utah Jazz and Houston Rockets, relieving Donovan Mitchell and James Harden respectively. That certainly wasn't the Iso Joe who put up such big numbers with the Hawks in the mid-late 2000s.
3 Former Star: Isaiah Thomas
Oh, how the mighty have fallen. It wasn't too long ago, but Isaiah Thomas was parlaying those huge fourth quarters into superstar-caliber numbers for the Boston Celtics. But just one year after averaging close to 29 points for the Celtics, IT struggled through an injury-riddled 2017-18 season split between the Cavaliers and the Lakers. So what's next for him?
Unfortunately, his move to the Denver Nuggets could mean a continued off-the-bench role, as the team has a promising young starting backcourt in Jamal Murray and Gary Harris, with Will Barton also putting up good numbers as a sixth man. Thomas could prove us wrong, but he probably won't be starting unless Murray or Harris go down with injuries.
2 Former Star: Joakim Noah
He's gone from stuffing the stat sheet (despite only averaging in the low double figures in points), making life miserable for opposing big men, and winning 2014 Defensive Player of the Year honors to being a pariah in the New York Knicks lineup. Ideally, Joakim Noah should be starting alongside Kristaps Porzingis, with Enes Kanter reprising his old sixth man role in the Thunder, but instead, he's ended up playing just 53 games for the Knicks over two seasons.
As of this writing, the Knicks have to waive-and-stretch Noah like the Lakers recently did to Luol Deng. But even if he finds a new NBA home for 2018-19, he likely won't come close to his old Chicago Bulls form, not at 33-years-old with some injury concerns.
1 Future Bench Player: Zach Randolph
Last season, Randolph led the Kings in scoring (with a measly 14.5 ppg) and started 57 of the 59 games he played in, but it was more out of necessity than anything else. Yes, it wasn't too long ago when Z-Bo was a threat to drop a 20-10 game on any given team, but he just turned 37 and is looking at a potential demotion in the Kings' lineup.
As the second overall pick in the 2018 draft, Marvin Bagley III might only need a few games before he familiarizes himself with David Joerger's system and takes over from Randolph as Sacramento's starting power forward. The burly big man has had a very solid NBA career, but he's entering his 18th season and his age is definitely showing.