Forum Spin Doctor
INDIANAPOLIS - At 38, Darrell Armstrong is the oldest of the Indiana Pacers by far. After three games with his new team, though, his energy and enthusiasm are making it awfully tough for coach Rick Carlisle to give him the reduced playing time that's more befitting a player of his age.
Obtained in an offseason trade with Dallas, the 13-year NBA veteran is also bringing a steadying influence to a young team that has had to deal with a flock of off-court distractions the past two years.
"A lot of people were saying that maybe I don't have nothing in the tank, where I wasn't scoring like I used to," the 6-foot-1 guard said after Monday's practice. "To be honest with you, I wasn't even looking at the basket in Dallas. I was trying to get guys involved.
"We had so many weapons offensively, sometimes somebody's got to take a different role. I took the role of being a defensive player, of pushing the ball, changing the pace of the game, trying to get guys easy shots," he said. "Here, my job is a little different. It's still to get guys easy shots but also to look at my shot."
Armstrong averaged a career-low 2.1 points in 10 minutes a game for the Mavericks last season. He came to the Pacers with Rawle Marshall and Josh Powell in July as part of a trade for veteran guard Anthony Johnson.
In three games with Indiana (2-1), he's averaging 11 points and 3.7 assists in 17 minutes a game. He's also shooting 65 percent from the field - including a team-high 8-of-12 3-pointers.
"When you can be productive on the floor, Rick's going to keep you out there," he said. "Every coach has a plan for an older guy or your role players, how long you want to keep them in, what they're going to do. I know Rick probably has a plan to play me 12 to 15 minutes. I guess he looks up sometimes and I'm past 15 minutes in the third quarter."
Armstrong played 19 points in a 100-91 loss to New Orleans on Friday night. He came back the following night with 13 points in 17 minutes in a 109-95 victory at New York. So far, the strain hasn't bothered him.
"As long as I get my rest and relax," he said. "I felt good Saturday night from the back-to-back. But it's a challenge for me every night, not only in games but in practice as well because I want to keep my mind set the right way."
Armstrong, who was not drafted out of Fayetteville State in 1991, played in the minor leagues and in Europe before he signed as a free agent with Orlando late in the 1995 season. He played only three games with the Magic that year and 13 the next season before his career took off in 1996, and his best seasons were in 2000, when he averaged 16.2 points, and 2001, at 15.9 points a game.
The roster shake-up this season has made Armstrong and Sarunas Jasikevicius, so far, the top reserves at guard behind starters Stephen Jackson and Jamaal Tinsley.
And with the team still trying to overcome the chaos following the brawl with Detroit Pistons fans in 2004 and the recent nightclub shooting involving Jackson, Carlisle finally has something positive to build on.
"I like our team. I like the way they interact,'" he said of the new team chemistry, even with Jackson's legal troubles. "They seem to like each other and care about each other, and it shows when they're playing."
Carlisle said Armstrong's leadership and ability - despite his age - don't surprise him a bit.
"We knew Darrell was a guy that's been a very successful player in this league for a long time," Carlisle said. "We know he's getting toward the end of his career, but he still has great energy, he still has great heart and enthusiasm, and those things can be contagious for a team, and that's what we need from him."
Jackson, who was charged with felony criminal recklessness and misdemeanor counts of battery and disorderly conduct after firing a gun outside a strip club last month, has a pretrial hearing scheduled Dec. 6. His lawyer has said Jackson acted in self-defense.
In the meantime, he's averaging 14 points a game in his three starts.
"It doesn't bother me," he said. "It's not in my mind. I just play basketball.
"I've just been going out and doing my job, haven't been worried about nothing but helping my team. We're 2-1 now, off to a decent start," Jackson said. "All we can do is get better."
The Pacers play Philadelphia (3-0), the only unbeaten team in the Eastern Conference, on Tuesday night.