Dallas Mavericks assistant coach Darrell Armstrong has one of the diverse and impressive basketball portfolios out there.
Winning a ring as an assistant coach with the 2011 NBA Champion Dallas Mavericks, Armstrong’s accolades as a professional from 1991-2008 as a player were surely something to write home about.
Going undrafted out of Fayetteville State in 1991, Armstrong got his first gnaw at the NBA during the 1994–95 season where he played the last 3 games of the regular season for the Orlando Magic. While he manned the court as a floor general, Armstrong wowed the crowd and Magic management with his scoring ability.
As a member of the Magic, Armstrong simultaneously won the NBA’s Most Improved Player of the Award and the league’s Sixth Man of the Year Award in 1999. “After being in the league for three years, still on waiting on the opportunity and the chance,” Armstrong told me on Scoop B Radio.
“Putting in so much work, you know; to not only be a better player, not only shooting the basketball, but also getting stronger in the weight room, helping me to be quicker and faster and stronger all those things adds up to one.”
Armstrong would end up sticking with the Magic through the 2003 season.
I first interviewed Armstrong when I was a Nets kid reporter and he was a member of the Orlando Magic during the 1997-98 NBA season.
Then and now, a few things stood out to me about him:
a). At 6 feet tall, he probably had the most hops imaginable for someone his size.
c). During his tenure with the Orlando Magic, Armstrong has had the distinction of being teammates with two of the most transcendent guards in the NBA not named Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant. Armstrong teammed with both Anfernee “Penny” Hardaway and Tracy McGrady.
With McGrady being inducted into Springfield, Massachusetts’ Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame this weekend, one can’t help but think about the excitement that was T-Mac, the scoring machine in the city that Walt Disney built.
Armstrong and T-Mac were on a team that included Grant Hill and coached by Doc Rivers and were supposed to make noise in the NBA’s Eastern Conference in the early 2000s. Grant Hill was starting at the point guard, Armstrong slid to the two-guard with McGrady staring at the 3 alongside Drew Gooden and John Amaechi at the 4 and 5, respectively.
That squad was loaded! Heck, Mike Miller came off the bench!
Man that team was potent, but Grant Hill couldn’t stay healthy. That is when Tracy McGrady took over with his scoring galore! “Tracy was very special,” said Armstrong. I’m fortunate enough to have that opportunity to wear that jersey; the Magic jersey alongside him and Penny. You know, I’m fortunate to be their teammate because, I mean every night you got the chance to see some type of greatness, some type of unbelievable scoring from both of them.”
“With T-Mac, a lot of people don’t know or would know that T-Mac was a decent player when he left Toronto and he got the opportunity with that one playoff game where they played New York and Vince was being covered so much by all the guys on New York that T Mac started to get off. And people started to see T-Mac’s talent during the playoffs that year. That is when we went and got him and that is when he came to the Magic that next year and what he did from there was just amazing because that is what he was suppose to be doing when he got to Toronto. But it didn’t happen like that for his first two years and then people started to say: ‘okay this is what they were talking about.’ And he put in the work and he dedicated himself everyday when he got into the game that he was going to be one of the top players in the league and he did it. It was fun to see him and Kobe Bryant go at each other, Michael Jordan go at each other. I was just amazed by it, the things that he could do. But he was something special.”
In 938 games, McGrady averaged 19.6 points, 5.6 rebounds and 4.4 assists. In 704 games, Penny Hardaway posted 15.2 points, 4.5 rebounds and 5 assists.
So who was the better player? Tracy McGrady or Penny Hardaway? “Both of them could play defense and both of them could score,” said Armstrong.
“Definitely Penny was the better passer because Penny was a point guard. Mac could still pass the ball as well, that is hard to say Scoop. They both did it in their own way and in their own style; the only thing I will say, that Penny was better than T-Mac was passing the basketball. Like I said, they both could shoot the basketball, they both could score the basketball, that is a tough one to say. Penny went deeper in the playoffs,farther than T-Mac has ever been; besides being with T-Mac with Spurs, but he didn’t play. But when he played, you know Penny and he in the playoffs, Penny, you know Penny lost in the championship as a starter. So I mean it is hard to say if there is any edge the edge I give to Penny over T-Mac is that he was a better passer than he was.”
Armstrong is an assistant coach of the Dallas Mavericks. In a game of shoulda-coulda-woulda, if he were currently an NBA head coach, who would he pick to start his team in today’s NBA? “Damn Scoop, once again you give me another tough one,” said Armstrong.
“I say: oh man you can’t go wrong with either one of them. Penny played a one and T-Mac played a two. So that is why I say it is so different. S**t Scoop, I would probably take Penny because the reason I say I take Penny is because Penny would be ready to run the offense as a point guard, knows how to play the point, but also you can just knock the ball with two points. Mac wasn’t a point guard. T-Mac never ran the point guard, so T Mac was more of the two/three player. I would probably have to say Penny I have a bigger guard that would cause a problem at the point guard position because he would be different.”
In addition to talking about T-Mac and Penny Hardaway, Armstrong also chatted about his time playing at a historically black college in Fayetteville State. “I was playing because of the tradition of so many people knowing and so many athletes from the Charles Oakley to Earl ‘The Pearl’ Monroe to Rick Mahorn,” he said. “And you know now, even Stephen A [Smith] played for Winston Salem State. Ben Wallace and myself, so it was amazing with the athletes and the fans always love to hear the Black National Anthem [Lift Every Voice And Sing] whenever they sang it”
Armstrong even weighed in on the notion Tim Duncan would join he, T-Mac, and Grant Hill in Orlando via free agency, summer 2000.
According to Armstrong, the probabilities of Duncan coming to Orlando were zilch, zip, zero, stingy with the dinero. Spurs coach Gregg Popovich thought it was for real though! “It was a nerve-wrecking time,” Popovich admitted in an interview. (H/T CBS Sports’ Matt Moore)
“It was hell. You get close to a player and you don’t want to see him leave. I never let myself believe he was going to stay. I was just getting myself prepared, for sanity reasons. It’s no fun.”
“It also seems like it takes forever to resolve. That’s the worst part of it. We made our pitch to him and let him be, let him make up his own mind.”
Darrell Armstrong tells a different story on Scoop B Radio: “Tim wasn’t going nowhere,” he said.
“I mean where Tim played at and finished at, that was where Tim was going to be. Tim wasn’t going to go nowhere. We all love to entertain and see who is going to be out there. I don’t even believe he even thought about leaving San Antonio especially after winning some Championships. So I mean, no he wasn’t going anywhere. Sometimes you call the guys when free agency starts and you call them and talk to guys and they wanted me to call and I was sitting there like I am not you shouldn’t even call this guy he isn’t leaving.”
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