Editor’s note: According to certain reports, Carlos Arroyo could play in Europe next season. The Italian team Pallacanestro Cantu is one team interested in the Puerto Rican point guard.
Pondering Arroyo’s future made me think back to his Celtics tenure. One game in particular stood out.
During the embryonic stages of Carlos Arroyo’s Boston Celtics career, hope originated from nowhere to build within me. Think the Big Bang Theory, except on a much smaller scale and not so essential to human life. I still expected little from Arroyo; veterans who get cut by a contender during midseason rarely make a major impact elsewhere. But during his first game with the Celtics, Arroyo was a bird who had escaped from his cage, a bird who flew away from Lebron James and Dwyane Wade and, without ball-dominating superstars to defer to, finally spread his wings.
The stats do not tell the story of Arroyo’s first game in Green; he contributed little to Boston’s box score, scoring four points and dishing two assists during 15 minutes of floor time. Even though Arroyo was making his Boston debut, the AP recap did not mention him once. Still, anybody who saw the game and understood its intricacies could see what Arroyo brought to the TD Garden floor that day. Whatever he lacked in statistical production he made up for with contagious energy and an unselfishness that operated as smelling salts for his teammates. The Celtics fell behind by 23 points to the Los Angeles Clippers before Arroyo helped mount a charge.
In retrospect, Arroyo’s debut paled in comparison to other developments from that night. Nenad Krstic scored 20 points and added nine rebounds from his starting role, but he began to reveal the flaws that would eventually land him a spot in Doc Rivers’s doghouse. DeAndre Jordan, who possesses all the offensive talent of a phone booth, scored 21 points against Krstic, almost all of them on uncontested dunks. The Clippers shot 67.6% from the field during the first half. While Krstic could not be blamed for all of L.A.’s hot shooting, his rotations were late and he could often do nothing but futilely watch as the Clippers did chin-ups on the rim. Boston’s Serbian center was as meek as advertised, and fellow midseason addition Jeff Green began to display a tentative demeanor that would plague him all year long.
Amid storylines that would effect Boston’s season and help lead to their demise, Arroyo’s understated art meant little, if anything. He played well enough to lead a comeback, but he did not play well enough to lead the Celtics to a win. He played well enough to vault Avery Bradley in Boston’s point guard stable, but he did not play well enough to find a permanent spot in the Celtics’ rotation. He played well enough to encourage Boston’s crowd and draw praise from Doc Rivers, but not well enough to even get mentioned by the Associated Press. Later on, I would realize the insignificance that Arroyo’s 15 impressive minutes would have on Boston’s season, that he was destined for DNP-CDs and splinters on his butt regardless of how worthy he was on March 9th against the Los Angeles Clippers.
But for that night, Arroyo made me a dreamer. I did not dream that he would become an All-Star or that he would take Rajon Rondo’s starting spot or that he would regularly make the Celtics significantly better as he did on that night. Rather, I dreamed that he would exceed my expectations and become a contributor the Celtics could count on, the first reliable backup point guard of the Big Three era. During Arroyo’s debut, I remembered Stephon Marbury’s pained existence and Sam Cassell’s “I would rather shoot ten jumpers in a row than pass to any of my (better) teammates” mentality. I remembered Eddie House’s “blind man wearing winter gloves” handle, Doc Rivers’ (appropriate) unwillingness to play Avery Bradley, and Delonte West’s season that was (at that point) almost entirely stained by suspension and injuries.
I understood what some of those players contributed to Boston’s playoff runs (House, in particular, earned Rivers’s trust with a barrage of clutch shots in the NBA Finals, and even Marbury almost single-handedly won a playoff game against the Orlando Magic)—but in Arroyo that night, I saw potential for a true point guard who could spell Rondo and keep Boston’s offense plugging along with precision. Arroyo had not been that player for Miami, I knew. But in his first game with the Celtics, he played with an easiness and confidence he had not displayed with the Heat. When Rondo re-entered the game, Rivers even shifted Arroyo to shooting guard in an effort to keep him in the lineup. The Associated Press did not deem Arroyo’s performance worthy of a mention, yet his own coach called it “phenomenal.”
Arroyo did nothing spectacular against the Clippers. He did not dunk, he did not dazzle with no-look passes, and none of his crossover dribbles made opponents stumble backwards. His contributions came in ways that only purists could enjoy—a quick pitch upcourt to Sasha Pavlovic for an open transition jumper; a textbook bounce pass to a cutting Krstic; a crisp pick-and-roll that ended with Arroyo accumulating a hockey assist (he made the pass that led to the assist). He demonstrated the artistry of a natural-born point guard, the instinct to make the right play, the ability to adapt to each situation at a moment’s notice. Arroyo did not make highlights and he did not register a double-double, but his presence on the court allowed Boston to flow like expensive wine.
My long-shot dreams of Arroyo becoming a reliable backup point guard still did not come to fruition. The Celtics went to the NBA playoffs and played Arroyo’s former team, the Heat, but Arroyo did not play a single minute during the series. Doc Rivers rightfully chose to offer Boston’s backup point guard slot to Delonte West, who was more talented and productive than Arroyo on both ends of the court. The Celtics went down while Arroyo did nothing but watch from the sideline.
The NBA landscape is marked by stars who make their teammates better every night. Chris Paul finds David West in positions where he can do the most damage. Lebron James elevates into the air and whips passes to a wide open James Jones. Kobe Bryant relieves pressure from Pau Gasol and encourages double teams that leave Derek Fisher in the clear. Steve Nash creates scoring opportunities from thin air. Dwight Howard turns Hedo Turkoglu’s defensive deficiencies into no big deal. Stars boost their teammates every night, or at least a majority of nights. They boost their teammates to levels their teammates could not achieve by themselves.
But sometimes those stars need a boost, too. Sometimes Rajon Rondo, Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen just don’t have their A-game, and they need Carlos Arroyo or Jeff Green or Glen Davis or Von Wafer to step on the accelerator. “Phenomenal,” you see, isn’t always a permanent state. It can come and it can go, it can vary in extent, and it can sometimes exist even when the AP doesn’t mention it, even when “phenomenal” only results in four points, two assists, and one loss.