One of the harshest realities in sports is that an athlete can just lose it at any time. Whether it's injuries, old age or pure regression, even the greatest athletes start to lose it and that’s no different in the NBA. Many of the future Hall of Fame stars in the NBA right now are getting older and while most of them are still very productive, they’re clearly on the decline as they play out the final years of their careers. Most members on the list are of this variety but there are many other reasons for the decline many are facing.
Some players today have a poor attitude. That can mean they don’t get along well with others, they refuse to take coaching guidance or they’re just flat out selfish. This type of NBA star can get by on his talent in the early days of his career as young players are expected to have ups and downs with growing pains as they enter a league of men while they are basically boys. The problem occurs if the player is unwilling to mature, then his attitude may sink his talent and he’ll regress until no longer relevant, like you will see with some NBA stars selected here.
Injuries are also troublesome as if your body breaks down, as there’s just no way even pure heart can overcome with such an elite level of talent in the NBA today. The wrong injury could damage a career and force a player to decline. It’s important to note that while this list is looking at players who are on the decline, most of them are still very talented. It’s just the order of the NBA that some players are starting to lose what made them special and take a few steps down away from the greatness we are accustomed to seeing from them.
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15 Kevin Garnett
You can argue that Kevin Garnett has been on the decline for a while now, but it’s to a much larger extent now. Just a few years ago, Garnett was good enough for the Brooklyn Nets to warrant giving up three first round draft picks to acquire him (and others). Even just last season, Garnett was starting for a team looking to make the playoffs. Now back with the rebuilding Minnesota Timberwolves, Garnett is in the process of accepting his limitations as a veteran and will likely serve as a leader in the locker room that spends very little time on the court.
14 Zach Randolph
Not many fans realize how long Zach Randolph has been in the NBA as the gritty power forward was drafted back in 2001. With so much wear and tear on his body as well as his style of play demanding a more physical presence, Randolph is definitely going to be on the decline this season. After playing full rotation minutes last season, Randolph wasn’t his usual self in the playoffs as the longevity of an NBA season seemed to catch up with him. His role with the Memphis Grizzlies will always be positive and beneficial to the team but Randolph is one player definitely expected to be on the downtrend this upcoming season.
13 Tim Duncan
While still an amazing asset that somehow finds a way to be great at his age, Tim Duncan is finally in the last couple of years in his career. Last season, Duncan was very good but only ended up with 13.9 points and 9.1 rebounds per game - stats great for most big men but near career lows for Duncan. With the addition of LaMarcus Aldridge and a larger role for young stars Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green, expect Duncan’s numbers and large role on the offense to go down a bit. Still someone you want on your team, the Spurs have an embarrassment of riches by having Duncan become their third or fourth best player.
12 Joe Johnson
The Brooklyn Nets have traded Deron Williams and expect Joe Johnson to carry the team next season. Unfortunately, that means their chances of making the playoffs are very slim. Johnson still has a lot to offer and would be great on a championship contender as a super sixth man off the bench or the missing piece at shooting guard but he won’t be able to match his Atlanta Hawks days when he would take over the game with isolation plays and score at will. Between age and teams zoning in on him defensively considering the lack of lineup depth for Brooklyn, Johnson is going to be forced to decline.
11 Dirk Nowitzki
Blessed with the talent and precise skill to be a tremendous yet equally efficient shooter from anywhere on the court, the decline of Dirk Nowitzki is currently happening. Similar to Duncan, Nowitzki can no longer be the best player on a team looking to contend but the Dallas Mavericks are forced this season. Nowitzki’s numbers fell a little bit last year averaging his lowest points and rebounds per game since his rookie season. Even worse, the Mavericks are losing Monta Ellis and Tyson Chandler, both of which were big helps to Dirk last year. It could be a very rough year for Nowitzki if Dallas doesn’t find more talent to help him out.
10 Luol Deng
One player that’s been very quietly on the decline is Luol Deng. With a stacked lineup, Deng has a perfect fit with the Miami Heat where he doesn’t have to be a great offensive player and just has to contribute on defense. Typically averaging 16-19 points per game at his best, Deng dropped all the way to 14 points per game once being traded away from Chicago and is likely to fall even more in the upcoming season. Deng is a huge asset for a team like the Heat with 4-5 players being better than him but the days of him being a borderline All Star threat are long gone.
9 Derrick Rose
Derrick Rose was once among the brightest stars in the NBA and had the potential to become the best point guard in the league. The former MVP had years of his prime taken away with injury after injury and while he’s finally playing again, it looks like it may have harmed his skill. Rose is still exciting, explosive and capable on offense but his efficiency has gone down the drain with very poor shooting percentages. Rose has to take a lot of shots to get his points and on defense, he’s nowhere near what he used to be, actually becoming a weakness on that end of the court.
8 Paul Pierce
Some would argue Paul Pierce was on the decline with the Brooklyn Nets and Washington Wizards but he contributed very much to both teams making the playoffs, in respective years while being a starter playing rotation minutes. Last season may have been the final one left in the tank for the aging Pierce as he enters a new role with the Los Angeles Clippers. Pierce even questioned if he had the energy in him for another full season but decided to sign on for a reduced role with the Clippers because he knew he was on the decline and his leadership and clutch playoff play could still be utilized.
7 Josh Smith
The story of Josh Smith is pretty sad because the guy has tremendous athletic talent but he gets stuck in his own ways and it hurts him. Following a successful stint with the Atlanta Hawks where he was utilized very well, Smith flopped with the Detroit Pistons before signing with the Houston Rockets. Smith was lackluster for the new team in the regular season but made some big plays in the postseason. With an inability to shoot and his once stellar defense now lackluster, Smith is taking a bench spot with the Los Angeles Clippers in hopes of building back up his stock but it won’t stop his decline.
6 Dwyane Wade
When he is playing, Dwyane Wade still can do amazing things and will make you wonder if he’s human. His mortality is realized when the monthly injuries flare up and he is forced to miss time. Wade’s issue is mostly health and dealing with the wear and tear of all the minutes played in the NBA but this is likely the year that Wade reverts back from an All Star level player to a very good player. Goran Dragic and Chris Bosh should have control on the offensive end with Wade taking a backseat to the two stars in their prime as he fades back into a more managed role.
5 Carmelo Anthony
Renowned as one of the greatest scorers in the NBA, Carmelo Anthony’s style of play used to be enough to make the playoffs in the Western Conference every year when a member of the Denver Nuggets. Ever since his move to the New York Knicks, his scoring has been less successful for the Knicks record. Over the last few years, Anthony has been the leader of a poor squad and was met with his first major injury last season. Considering he’s entering his 30s playing with a group of young kids and mediocre veterans, we are getting overpriced front row seats at Madison Square Garden to see Anthony’s decline.
4 Kobe Bryant
You have to admire and respect when Kobe Bryant shows his unwavering confidence, proclaiming himself still among the best NBA players in the world. While exciting and sometimes must see TV, Bryant is no longer an elite NBA player and this season may be the year he falls back to the pack. Kobe can still score and do impressive things but he needs a high volume of shots to do it which hurts the overall team. That’s been the story since he entered the league but he was great enough to carry a team with that style of play and now it completely sinks any chance of team success because he's not as good.
3 Tony Parker
One of the key members of the San Antonio Spurs success, Tony Parker has been in the process of declining from a top tier point guard in the NBA to just above average. Parker still has his strengths and will hit clutch shots in playoff games but when you’re watching him play through a full season, he often looks like an average player. There’s no question the Spurs are in a transition period where the past and future of their franchise are merging together. This is the season Parker and Tim Duncan decline by giving up the top offensive roles on the team to LaMarcus Aldridge and Kawhi Leonard.
2 Joakim Noah
It was staggering last year as Joakim Noah fell off his throne as king of Chicago to a player that was just hurting the Bulls. Looking at +/- numbers, the Bulls were a significantly worse team when Noah was on the court compared to when he was on the bench. While he’s never been an offensive superstar, Noah usually would be good for a double-double average. Last year, the center averaged a measly 7.2 points per game while having a putrid free throw shooting percentage of 44.5%. This season, things will get worse as the Bulls look to focus more on offense where Noah has always been weak. Taj Gibson and Nikola Mirotic will eat into his minutes.
1 Rajon Rondo
Not only is Rajon Rondo on the decline among former NBA stars reverting back to the average but he’s become so bad that he may be forced out of the league if he doesn’t turn this around soon. Many of us felt Rondo looked average after the Boston Celtics traded Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce because he had no help around him and he always played better in big games which would harm his results on a poor team. Well, Rondo was traded to the Dallas Mavericks, a team good enough to contend for a title last year if he lived up to his billing but his presence completely killed the team. It was clear Rondo no longer had “it” and this season could become uglier on a dysfunctional Sacramento Kings team.
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