A voice of experience lands in Indy
New Pacer Armstrong brings veteran leadership to young team
by Mark Monteith
He ran three players-only film sessions last season. He ran practices, too, and he'd occasionally step in and lecture during timeouts.
Sure, Darrell Armstrong comes to the Indiana Pacers as a player, a 38-year-old point guard who believes he still can contribute. But he'll be an untitled assistant coach as well, bringing proven leadership to a team that's thirsting for direction.
"I see a team that's looking for some help," Armstrong said during an informal media gathering Wednesday at Conseco Fieldhouse.
"You have to understand, losing Reggie Miller was big for this team. His presence, on and off the floor, was big for this team. I think (team president Larry Bird) sees the same qualities that Reggie had."
Armstrong faces the challenge of assuming Miller-like leadership as a newcomer, but he's willing to lead by example first. He'll also have allies in the locker room in former Dallas teammate Marquis Daniels and, perhaps, Josh Powell and Rawle Marshall.
Powell and Marshall were included in the trade with Dallas that brought Armstrong to the Pacers for Anthony Johnson. Their status is uncertain, but Daniels will be a key player and an unabashed advocate.
Daniels recruited Armstrong over the past couple of weeks when Armstrong was considering free agent offers -- Washington was the Pacers' primary competition -- and looks forward to rejoining him.
"He shows great leadership," Daniels said in a telephone interview Wednesday. "He's committed. He brings effort every day, and when the young guys see the old guys doing that, it makes a difference."
Armstrong plans to play one more season and then turn to coaching, but he got a head start last season with the Mavericks. He recalled an overtime loss in New York on Jan. 11, after which Dallas coach Avery Johnson approached him on the flight home and told him to run the film session the next day without the coaches.
Armstrong did, and the Mavericks promptly went on a 13-game winning streak. He ran another film session after the first 11 wins of that streak, before Dallas played the Los Angeles Lakers. Kobe Bryant had dropped 62 points in three quarters on the Mavericks the previous time they met. Armstrong encouraged more physical play, Bryant managed just 24 points on 5-of-22 shooting, and the Mavericks continued their streak.
"It was fun that Avery depended on me to get through to those guys," Armstrong said.
Armstrong hopes to continue a similar role with the Pacers, but he's quick to remind that he sees himself as a player first. He played in 62 games with the Mavericks last season, more than he anticipated, for an average of 10 minutes per game. His stats were modest -- 2.1 points on 34 percent shooting, 1.4 assists -- but he offers intangibles beyond the box score, both in practices and games.
He tsk-tsked the question of how much he'll play next season.
"I can play all 82," he said. "If I can still pick up full court at 38 . . . that's been my job for the last 12 years. It's easy. It's like you writing notes. It's easy."
With Austin Croshere and Johnson traded to Dallas and Scot Pollard in limbo as a free agent, Armstrong stands apart on a Pacers' roster that remains a work in progress. Their second-oldest player at the moment is Jeff Foster, who turned 29 in January.
Unabashed, Armstrong looks forward to setting an example.
"I just try to play the game like old-school," he said. "I don't wear sweatbands, I don't wear headbands. I just put on my hard hat and go out there and play. I respect the way the older guys played the game in the past and that's what I try to do, just play the game the way it's supposed to be played. Hopefully everybody will follow."