Sometime during Doc Rivers’ Orlando Magic days, asserts Peter Vecsey, he attempted to ruin his own player’s good name.
Darrell Armstrong had always been a fan favorite in Orlando, partially because he played hard; partially because he earned NBA success after playing only three seasons of organized basketball prior to professional basketball (one high school season and two seasons at Division II Fayeteville St.); partially because he was no bigger than many of his fan; and partially because he was one of Orlando’s bright spots in the post-Shaq, pre-Dwight era. As recently as 2009, the Orlando Magic blog “Orlando Pinstriped Post” conducted a poll examining whether the Magic should retire Armstrong’s jersey — 63% of readers responded yes.
Keep in mind, this was Darrell Armstrong. He averaged double digit points only five times in his entire career, averaged more than four assists only five times in his entire career, never made an All-Star team or came close, and is probably best known for making a layup in the NBA’s slam dunk contest. Sure, every Magic team Armstrong played for (he played for nine of them) won at least 50% of its games. Yeah, Armstrong’s the only player in NBA history to win Sixth Man of the Year and Most Improved Player in the same season. But he was a lot more Dana Barros than Chris Paul. Clearly, Orlando fans held (and still hold) an (unreasonable?) degree of love for Armstrong.
But Armstrong caused problems for Rivers, says Vecsey, and thus Rivers tried to stain Armstrong’s legacy — it would be easier to dump him that way, as the story goes.
I remember Doc Rivers, celebrated as a player’s coach by the unenlightened or those supplied by info, once pulled me aside in Orlando after a game. He told me Darrell Armstrong supposedly had said stuff during halftime intermission that contradicted people’s perception he was an ideal team leader.
The scheme was to use me to expose the Magic guard and thus make it easier to dump Armstrong, which transpired in due course . . . without my collaboration.
Keep in mind (and this is not to paint Vecsey in an unworthy light, just to explain the situation to those who may not be familiar with Vecsey), Vecsey’s reputation is not exactly stellar. In a Deadspin column detailing Vecsey’s writing style, Will Leitch wrote, “Forgive the analogy, but it occurred to us that a Peter Vecsey column is a lot like going hunting with Dick Cheney. If you’re loud and obnoxious enough to scare the little critters out of hiding and keep loudly blasting away, you’re bound to hit something eventually. And those innocent people who get in the way and take a little bird shot to the face? Collateral damage.”
By all indications, Rivers has been nothing short of a player’s coach since he came to Boston. Maybe thinking that makes me “unenlightened” or “supplied by info,” but enough evidence suggests that 1) players like Rivers, 2) players like playing for Rivers, and 3) the previous two points come as a result of Rivers treating his players well. The most concerning locker room tale I can think of since Rivers joined the Celtics was the Delonte West-Von Wafer fight. And the Celtics definitely did not leak that tale, actually attempting to quiet the press by treating it like a non-story.
Only one rumor (or truth) I can think of might have been leaked by Boston’s front office: Rajon Rondo being late for a playoff game, back in 2009. At least one prominent Boston writer, Charles Pierce (who writes for the Globe’s Sunday magazine) has suggested that the front office might have leaked that rumor. The front office could have been bracing the Celtics fan base in case the team did not resign Rondo to a contract extension, and Rondo’s name was reportedly floated around in trade rumors during the ’09 offseason. Of course, the Celtics did sign Rondo to an extension — just not before Ainge publicly exposed some of Rondo’s faults, perhaps driving down Rondo’s price while simultaneously preparing Boston for potentially losing Rondo in the process. (Goodness, that was some accidental alliteration.)
I’m not saying the Celtics necessarily had ulterior motives for discussing Rondo’s faults. But it does seem like an odd time for the team to finally discuss his poor punctuality and stubborn nature, no? Yet Rondo did not take offense when Ainge aired his immaturity for all to hear. Instead, he took responsibility, signed his contract extension and changed his attitude. Rondo and Rivers now, by all accounts, have a strong relationship.
What I’m trying to say is this: Could the Darrell Armstrong incident have occurred? Yes, it could have. But I, for one, will continue to admire Rivers as a player’s coach, whether or not that makes me “unenlightened” in Peter Vecsey’s opinion.