For years, it has been commonly accepted that basketball players would prefer to start. It marks status, showing that the coach has entrusted that player with getting the team off to a good start as part of the team's ideal five-man unit. Earning that position is a milestone in any player's career.
In recent years, however, the rise of players like James Harden (when he was with the Oklahoma City Thunder) and San Antonio Spurs guard Manu Ginobili has turned being a sixth man into a potentially prestigious role. This player doesn't have to be thought of as a bench player — he can be the star of the second wave of attackers, the player who gives his team a major advantage when the starters begin to tire and lesser talents enter the game.
It's still rare for a player to want to come off the bench. That's why it's notable that Detroit Pistons combo guard Rodney Stuckey, long a starter, would prefer to come off the bench. What's even more surprising is that Pistons coach Lawrence Frank doesn't like the idea. From Vincent Goodwill for The Detroit News (via SLAM):
"I can be the guy to come off the bench and just attack and bring energy with Will [Bynum] and those guys," said Stuckey, feeling better after a flu bug kept him from making the trip to Philadelphia [on Wednesday]. "I don't mind it at all. Whatever coach wants me to do, I'm happy. I'm not beating my head about it."
There's only one problem, though. Frank seems steadfast to the idea of Stuckey returning to the starting lineup for tonight's game against the Magic.
"Same lineup, we haven't changed. Everything's the same," Frank said after practice. "He looked better."
Kyle Singler took Stuckey's place in the lineup and played reasonably well, which presumably caused the guard to think that a change could work. In truth, a new role might not be the worst thing for Stuckey — he's struggled mightily this season in shooting a horrific 28.2 percent from the field on more than 10 shot attempts per game. Stuckey knows that scorers who double as capable facilitators have thrived in that sixth man role, and it's not terribly shocking that he'd look somewhere else to find success.
What's different here is that Harden and Ginobili, while willing, had to be convinced of that reserve role by coaches looking to disrupt the established NBA order of when to play a team's best players. As Frank says, he has no interest in changing his starting lineup just yet. NBA players are proud, and it's rare for one to give up a position of status of his own free will. We can assume, then, that coming off the bench is no longer quite so distasteful.
This situation is a little more complicated, both because Stuckey is potentially desperate to improve on his terrible shooting and because Frank may not actually consider Stuckey one of his two best guards in his current form. Nevertheless, it's important to consider how these players assess potential options. The bench is no longer a demotion — it could just be a new place to thrive.