BOSTON -- You don’t need to search his office wall for a diploma from the Tom Thibodeau School of Defense. Just watch Boston Celtics assistant coach Darren Erman run players through defensive drills and you can see he absorbed an awful lot as a Thibodeau understudy, including during their time together on Doc Rivers’ staff with the Celtics.
Erman is back in Boston this year (he was on Doc Rivers’ staff with the Celtics along with Thibodeau), the only new face on coach Brad Stevens’ staff. Brought back with the title of director of NBA scouting, Erman slid into a an assistant coaching role after veteran assistant Ron Adams elected to join Steve Kerr’s staff in Golden State.
The mild-mannered Erman turns into a ball of energy on the floor, his hands moving in a blizzard of activity as he directs players through pick-and-roll coverages. On Friday night during Boston’s pair of intrasquad scrimmages in front of season-ticket holders at TD Garden, Erman was constantly screaming instruction to players from the sideline and he reacted to missed assignments with the sort of frustration typically reserved for games that matter in the standings.
“Darren’s really a great defensive coach,” Stevens said. “And he’s more than that, but sometimes we pigeonhole guys and say that because he’s specialized in [defense]. But he is as detail-oriented as detail-oriented gets. If your hands are not in the right place as you are guarding in the pick-and-roll, or if your body position is 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. He’s really studied the game.”
Erman arrived in Boston with Thibodeau and spent four seasons as a coaching assistant, his workload heavy on scouting and individual skill work. Erman spent recent years with the Golden State Warriors, elevating to a top assistant under Mark Jackson, before a bizarre falling out led to a very public dismissal.
The Celtics moved quick to bring back Erman in late April and president of basketball operations Danny Ainge offered unwavering support while noting Erman’s hard-working nature during his first stint in Boston.
Stevens echoed that praise based on what he’s seen the past five months.
“I think that [Erman] adds another good young ambitious guy who’s excited to help these guys get better. And he spends a lot of time, as do all of our assistants, with the individuals. That’s as big of a key right now as anything else.”
Entering his sophomore season, Stevens finds comfort in a staff that underwent minimal alteration. Because of that familiarity, Stevens said, “we’ve been able to get a head start on things.
Assistant coach Walter McCarty echoed that sentiment before the start of training camp.
“We’ve just all been on the same page,” said McCarty. “I thought we did a really good job last season coming together, getting to know each other before the season, and getting our assignments and learning how to work together. We’ve really developed a great chemistry and how to work efficient. It [was] a great summer, we spent a lot of time together at summer league, and just being in the office. Just trying to make our team better.”
The Celtics have 20 players in camp and sometimes it feels like there’s just as many coaches. The team has staff members from the Maine Red Claws in camp, including first-year head coach Scott Morrison, to work with a trio of camp invites that are likely to land in the D-League as affiliated players.
But every player on the Celtics roster seems to have an assistant assigned to work with him individually. It’s not unusual to see Jay Larranaga watching film with newcomer Evan Turner, or player development coach Ronald Nored shadowing rookie James Young.
Trust in his assistants allows Stevens to focus on the bigger picture and offers him more flexibility to maneuver during practices.
Just in case there weren’t enough coaches in the gym this week, Stevens and the Celtics stuck with a tradition of inviting a number of college coaches to observe the early days of camp. Stevens has talked in the past about being an observer at Pacers practices, where he made friends with Indiana’s staff during his time at Butler University.
But Stevens gets as much out of having those college coaches observe the Celtics as they do.
“A couple of my favorite weeks when I was at Butler was when all the high school coaches were on fall break [in mid-October] and we’d have tons of them there,” explained Stevens. “I loved having them there. We’d go up and sit in the stands and talk for hours afterwards and enjoy each other’s company while spending time together. They can not only come to watch you practice and maybe pick up a drill that they want to tweak, or that they like, but I always asked them, ‘Be honest, what do you think? What do you think of us? What do you think of the way we communicate? What do you think of the body language? How do you feel it looked out there?’
“So we had a couple of coaches that were here for four or five days [this week] and then we had a couple that were in and out. That’s fun for me. I love that part of it. You get to know your players and the people really well. Other than the people that you coach and work with, the next group that you probably spend the most time with are your peers in coaching.”