clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Darren Erman, more than just a feel good story and possibly much more than a great defensive coach

On paper, Alvin Gentry and Darren Erman sounds like a ridiculously good New Orleans pairing. For the long-term, Erman possesses the goods to eventually sit at the helm one day and stay for a very long time.

Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

Earlier this morning, Adrian Wojnarowski announced the New Orleans Pelicans had agreed in principle to sign Darren Erman.

The New Orleans Pelicans are moving quickly to assemble a coaching staff to surround Alvin Gentry, reaching an agreement in principle with Boston Celtics assistant Darren Erman to become associate head coach, league sources told Yahoo Sports.

Erman, who will oversee the Pelicans' defense, informed Celtics officials on Tuesday morning that he had accepted the job with New Orleans, league sources told Yahoo Sports.

Unless you're unusually on top of everything that transpires in the NBA, you probably don't know much about Erman and why he was selected over seemingly better names like Brian Shaw, Don Newman, Ron Adams, Adrian Griffin or Mike Brown.

Thus, The Bird Writes is going to throw a couple of pieces at you today. In the first article, David covers the details of how the Pelicans can expect Gentry's offensive game plan to still maintain a certifiable defense, thanks to Darren Erman. I'll focus on his background: kind of a who, what and how as well as answer the GSW firing for reportedly illegally taping private conversations.


Darren Erman coached as an assistant at several colleges (Emory, Brandeis), one of the most famous basketball prep high schools (St. Anthony in New Jersey) under Bobby Hurley's father and added a Northwestern law degree in between before joining the Boston Celtics in 2008. All of this makes for nice filler except for the fact that there is so much more to this story above!

After he finished law school and had paid off his loans, Erman's passion for basketball drew him back to the court. In both his stops at St. Anthony and Brandeis, he worked for free. That's right, a practicing lawyer volunteered his time and slept on an air mattress in order to gain experience under one of the best high school coaches (27 state championships and over 1,000 wins) to ever grace the game.

At his next stop at Brandeis, the pattern was identical: he coached for nothing. However, while he was there, he met several NBA players who came to Camp Seeds of Peace while he was engaged in more volunteer work. He started to work those players out too and became rather close to one in particular, who was with the New Jersey Nets at the time, and his agent. Then, when that player (Brian Scalabrine?) went to the Celtics, Erman was introduced to other Celtics and started working them out as well. Boston's coaching staff took notice and he was eventually given a paid position in the NBA.

While in Beantown, he mainly focused on player development and scouting duties. He claimed he learned a lot from Tom Thibodeau and Lawrence Frank. He developed a sense that players will listen to anyone, regardless of who you are, if they believe the input given is legitimate. All of the Celtics noticed his hard work and believed they could trust him.

In 2011, he was lured away to Golden State because Mark Jackson had taken a liking to what he saw.

Doing a lot of Celtics games (as analyst). Hes a Louisville guy (Jacksons son attends Louisville). I spent a lot of times before Celtics games, talking to (Brian Scalabrine), who was friends with Erman. And every time we would talk, Erman would be there. So I talked to Doc Rivers about him, talked to Tom Thibodeau about him.Both guys raved about him, and we brought him in, interviewed him. And really hired him during the interview. Just absolutely passionate, a different guy, committed.He loves the game of basketball.

However, that's not even the best part, not for our purposes anyway.

He was absolutely funny. If he never gave me anything basketball-wise, which hes going to, hes still a heck of a hire. He keeps it light. A million stories. Funny. If we had a camera rolling during the interview you guys would say: you said that during the interview? Just very comical. But the guy is as hard of a worker as Ive been around.One of the first assignments I gave him by the time a 24-hour period was over he had immediately gotten back to me and was done. And it wasnt an easy thing. This guy gets it. Really a great guy who wants to be a great coach. Like I said, I pretty much hired him on the spot.

Dell Demps hired a passionate yet lighthearted fellow to work with Alvin Gentry, a known lover of all things funny? Are you kidding me??? This script couldn't sound any better!

Until, of course, we perhaps get to the part of how his tenure ended in the Bay Area.

When Golden State Warriors assistant coach Darren Erman was fired earlier this month, the reason given was a "violation of company policy."

It turns out that Erman's violation was secretly recording conversations between the team's coaches and players, according to sources with knowledge of the situation.

Although this never turned into some full-fledged Bay-gate scandal, it appeared to dampen Erman's career trajectory... or did it? In less than a month's time, the Boston Celtics hired him to serve as the team's director of scouting. Meanwhile, Mark Jackson was fired just days later.

Coincidence? I think not.

According to Chris Mannix of Sports Illustrated, Erman was caught in a very bad situation, trying to probably protect himself and others.

"What happened out there was, in my opinion, a total hatchet job for Darren Erman," said Chris Mannix of Sports Illustrated. "Darren has been one of the most respected assistants in the NBA for a long time. Did he tape a conversation when he thought some of the coaches were bad mouthing him to other players? Sure. Was he a shill for management? Absolutely not.

"Mark Jackson... was threatened by the work Darren Erman was putting in, the type of hours he put in as assistant coach. You have to have a certain level of understanding if you are a head coach of your own limitations. Doc Rivers had that with (Tom) Thibodeau in Boston. (Larry) Bird had that with (Rick) Carlisle and (Dick) Harter). Mark Jackson never had that with Darren Erman.

If I had to guess, Erman secretly taping a conversation or two had to do with whatever happened between Mark Jackson and Brian Scalabrine. Towards the end of the 2013-14 season, Scalabrine was re-assigned to the D-League for having a "difference in philosophies." Translation: the White Mamba didn't agree on some level with Coach Jackson and thus was removed from the equation because he openly and directly questioned Jackson's abilities as a head coach.

In August, Scalabrine revealed that Jackson didn't push his players like a Tom Thibodeau or Doc Rivers (and this was probably putting it nicely in regards to Jackson's faults). The clincher for me was that Scal was offered a chance to come back and serve under Steve Kerr. With Golden State's management and ownership group siding with the assistant coach who was initially disgraced, one should have absolutely no qualms about Darren Erman's character, especially considering he found meaningful NBA employment immediately upon leaving the Warriors.

Erman is a defensive game changer

Fish has already touched on the improvement the Celtics defense showed in 2014-15, but Erman's validity as a defensive whiz runs deeper. As I mentioned earlier, he broke into the NBA because players gravitated towards his player development abilities, from rookies to veterans alike. While in Boston, he learned from some of the best defensive minds in the business on a team that ranked as one of the best all-time.

He took his knowledge to Golden State, and during his tenure, the team's defense improved in rating (via NBA stats) from 26th to 11th to 3rd. Many have only credited Mark Jackson for the improvement but Brian Scalabrine had a different take.

They turned the ball over more than anybody else in the NBA, but they were third in the NBA in defense. A lot of that had to do with the defensive coach, Darren Erman, being there. I mean just completely taken to defense, studying the film and getting guys in the right position.

Others have voiced their favorable opinions as well. For instance, Stephen Curry has solely credited Erman with teaching him specific concepts. Take for instance, spinning away from offensive picks set by an opponent instead of trying to bull rush through them.

"Darren Erman taught me that, to be honest with you," Curry said, referencing Golden State's since-fired defensive expert. (Erman and Adams both favor spinning. Erman had long been a friend and admirer of Tom Thibodeau and Adams was Thibodeau's right-hand man in Chicago.)

"If you get hit square on a screen, it's a longer route to fight over instead of spinning under. It's a more efficient move too, because either they're going to hold you and it's a more evident illegal screen, or you're going to get under and off their body pretty quick." Matchups and positioning matter here. Spinning can work if you're far enough away and if your man can't capably shoot quickly over the top of a screen.

Both Harrison Barnes and Klay Thompson have also gone on record stating their improvements came at the hands of Erman.

More recently, Boston's Marcus Smart has showed notable progress since stepping foot in the NBA, ranging from his pick and roll defense to his jumpshot. Guess who's been working with him on these same things within the last month?

And that is why, after a brief trip home to Texas to see family, he is now back in Waltham, training for several hours a day with Celtics assistant coach Darren Erman. They have worked on shooting, ball-handling and defense, and how to make proper reads coming off of pick-and-rolls.

"If he continues to work," Erman said, "he can eventually be an All-Star."

Before the 2013-14 season began, Coach Brad Stevens was already raving about Darren Erman.

"Darren’s really a great defensive coach," Stevens said. "He’s more than that. I think sometimes we pigeon-hole guys because he’s obviously specialized in that. But he is detail-oriented as detail-oriented gets. If your hands aren’t in the right place as you’re guarding in a pick-and-roll, or if your body positioning’s not at the right angle, or you don’t guard the post in the exact right way, he’ll stop it and he’ll correct it."

As we saw in David's piece, the Celtics defensive improvement last season was very much a thing. I can't imagine how Stevens feels now that he's lost a valuable piece of his staff, but I have to believe the accolades would be stronger than ever.

Dreaming Big

Rajon Rondo has been mired in a number of controversies during his playing career so typically it's probably not wise to rely on anything that he says, but the following statements should be considered an exception.

"He’s the best guy in the league to me as far as scouting reports," Rondo said. "I call him Baby Thibodeau. Thibs is the best at it, to me, defensively. He’s the best defensive coach I’ve ever played for. (Erman is) pretty much a miniature Thibodeau."


"(Erman) does the same thing, he works just as hard," Rondo said. "You can’t really beat him to the gym. When Thibs was here, you couldn’t. I’d try to get to the gym at 7 in the morning, the only guy there was Thibs in his office. And (Erman is) pretty much the same way. It’s paid off for Thibs and it’s only a matter of time before (Erman) becomes a head coach."

Darren Erman got through to Rondo. As to where others have failed like Rick Carlisle, Erman did not. How did he do it? I'm not sure, but I do know that he got Rondo to read through and understand an 100-page scouting report on the Atlanta Hawks back in 2008. Years later, he exhibited this preparation ability in a game between the Celtics and Warriors where Erman's team ran a seldom used play and Rondo showed he was more than ready for it.

Before Alvin Gentry was hired, Dell Demps made sure Darren Erman was willing to come to New Orleans. Obviously, Pelicans management considered it important that both coaches to come together as a packaged deal.

Consequently, I'm salivating at what Erman can do for New Orleans. For Tyreke Evans defensive issues, especially off the ball. For a team that has finished in the bottom third of defensive efficiency three straight seasons, despite the presence of Anthony Davis on the roster.

However, I'm positively giddy thinking that Dell Demps may already have in place the Pelicans eventual successor to Alvin Gentry. Yesterday, I gave the Gentry hiring a lowly 4 but stated the grade could climb up to a 7 by correctly filling in the staff with appropriate coaching personnel. Twenty-four hours later, I can gleefully admit I was probably dead wrong. I had falsely assumed there was no combination available that could have made the initial Gentry hiring a 9, or gulp, a 10.

I think I was wrong, and I hope all other Gentry detractors come to change their opinions too. Next season, the Pelicans will have one of the most revered offensive coaches in the game paired alongside an upcoming defensive mastermind who has not only learned from the best but has the results to prove it.

These two coaches share a number of similar characteristics: they're devoted, hard-working men but prefer an easy-going environment. Thus, all my concerns about a shared coaching platform working out for the best have melted away.

I can't think of a better union of minds for the these budding Pelicans. One that will change the disposition of the locker room overnight where a still evolving group of young men will be given a golden opportunity to learn so many new things on both sides of the ball in surroundings conducive to younger minds.

On the one hand, they'll have the counsel of an experienced voice whose primary focus has been scoring, the fun side of basketball. On the other, they'll have a knowledgeable and motivating defensive force that has the potential to solve New Orleans biggest problems last year: Anthony Davis help issues and more importantly, the Pelicans swiss-cheese perimeter defense.

If everything falls into place, we might be looking at the beginning stages of the Pelicans Way. One in which Dell Demps took all of his experiences from San Antonio and the rest of his travels, adapted it to his beliefs but was given the freedom by Mickey Loomis and Tom Benson to shape the current roster, and hired his first ever NBA head coach to carry out his vision. Perhaps knowingly, he may have also planted the seeds of a new NBA coaching tree through the signing of Darren Erman.