NEW YORK — Four defeats A.D. (After Doc), hints and allegations continue to dribble-drive-and-dish throughout the league; the misinformed majority would like you to believe Magic GM John Gabriel undermined his undeviatingly adored coach by refusing to re-sign force field Darrell Armstrong. Not.

But, what the heck, don’t take my “authorized” word for it.

“I didn’t want Darrell back,” Doc Rivers openly admitted shortly after being dumped at the curb. “He’s my all-time favorite player, but the only way to take a step forward was to have Tracy McGrady leading the team. “Darrell was a strong leader — and a good leader — for nine seasons. But the only way to advance to the next level was to have your best player as captain.

“Historically, that has always been true. Look at all the great teams? Celtics, Lakers, Bulls, Pistons — their leaders were their best players — Russell, Bird, Magic, Michael, Isiah.

“What team has won a title with its best player not being the leader?”

(Hmm, let me think: The 1983 76ers; Dr. J was team leader, Moses Malone was the man. The 1999 Spurs; David Robinson/Tim Duncan. The 1970 Bucks; Oscar/Kareem)

“Obviously, we would have been better with Darrell. I could see we needed his direction and energy,” Rivers allowed.

“But all summer he said he felt he should start and would not come back as a backup. You can go someplace else (New Orleans) and accept less money than you would from your parent team, as well as a diminished role, like Patrick (Ewing) did when he went to Seattle. That couldn’t happen in New York, because Patrick made his name with the Knicks; he was their best player and their voice.”

Until Rivers created a “C” and ordered it engraved on McGrady’s uniform, he had never appointed anyone captain.

So, for four straight seasons during Baby Doc’s regime, Armstrong sashayed over to the referees and relayed any relevant conversation to the Magic. And, for the last three, McGrady unreservedly deferred to his leadership while dominating the stats sheet.

According to Rivers, when notified a change in the chain of command was necessary, McGrady agreed.

“It almost had to end that way,” Rivers lamented. “By far, Darrell is the hardest working player with the biggest heart I’ve ever seen. But this was the right thing to do and the right time to do it. It was very difficult for me and very taxing on him.

“Darrell and me had a falling out because we didn’t re-sign him, no question. But also there’s no doubt, at least in my mind, we’ll become good friends again some day.”

James, Zydrunas Ilgauskas and Carlos Boozer are untouchable, sources divulge.

The remaining Cavaliers — notably Ricky Davis, Darius Miles, Chris Mihm and DeSagana Diop — are being floated at various flea markets to determine their worth.

Before Danny Fortson reconfirmed his criminality and Dirk Nowitzki sprained his ankle, the Mavericks were listening to offers for Eduardo Najera, who was in mid-mope due to minimal minutes.

You don’t have to be a born cynic to disbelieve Mark Cuban and the Nelsons when they swear, under oath, they haven’t been shopping Michael Finley.

The plan is to get his scoring numbers up and try to obtain a younger, more athletic, defensive-oriented guard.

You cannot call the Knicks without them answering the phone, “Othella Harrington,” mocks a west coast GM.

Bonzi Wells being escorted out of Portland is just a matter of when; when ex-team president Bob Whitsitt is able to scrape together enough scratch to buy his own prison team.

Shouldn’t the Celtics have intense interest in Wells?

You would think so, except Danny Ainge almost certainly is keeping an offguard position open for restricted free agent-to-be Quentin Richardson.

Barring an appropriate trade, in which a halfway decent, untainted talent with no long-term obligation can be secured for Rasheed Wallace, I foresee the Blazers rejoicing the departure come summer of their rising free agent, scintilla of compensation or not.

When Jonathan Bender is getting close to being activated — which has to be soon — look for the Pacers to trade decidedly devalued Jamaal Tinsley.

The line forms on the right for his original playmaking and disruptive defensive services.

Can’t believe Hornets coach Tim Floyd blew an opportunity to get the Knicks’ Dikembe Mutombo off the court in the fourth quarter Saturday afternoon by forgetting to go to his small lineup.

Two knee operations within seven months and crisis-proof Nick Van Exel remains peerless in making big plays and bigger shots in the fourth quarter; see 16-point eruption (29, overall) down stretch of Spurs’ upset, while two-time MVP Tim Duncan was clanking free throws (four of nine in the fourth, six of 13, overall) and a wide open potentially game-tying springer at the top of the key.

As evidenced by Reggie Miller, if you can shoot and move without the ball you can play forever in this league.

No young player exemplifies that winning parlay more than the Pistons’ Richard Hamilton; naturally, he made look stupid by imploding for eight turnovers, seven points and six assists in Detroit’s overtime victory in New York on Monday.

When your outside shots are friction free, as New York’s Allan Houston’s have been of late, you have got to take more than the 19 shots he attempted Mondaynight. Moreover, you have got to get to the free throw line at least once purely by accident.

It’s not as if Houston was a pacifist; the refs just don’t seem to favor him all that much, probably because he rarely makes a stink.

Swept away by the fervent anticipation of Antonio McDyess’ Knick debut, Don Chaney played him far too many minutes (13) relative to his flawed impact (0-5 FG, three rebounds, two turnovers) and cost the Knicks valuable momentum and points off their once 15-point advantage.

If I were Frank Johnson, I would be real nervous about my future as coach of the Suns.

Oh, great, just what the league needs,the Lakers getting along famously, smiling, laughing, bumping chests and rooting for each other from the bench while plundering the Spurs and pillaging the Pacers.

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