So with recent rumors that the Pelicans are still debating whether to retain their GM Dell Demps and head coach Alvin Gentry, we're once again seeing lots of rumors about who the Pelicans next head coach should be. Some of the same old names, like Jeff Van Gundy, have been thrown out there (even though they'd never happen for a variety of reasons). Some more assistant coach names have been tossed around (notably Mike Brown. Like the Pels really need to hire ANOTHER Warriors assistant to lead their team, right?). But one huge name is being left out. A man already sitting on the sidelines each and ever game for the Pelicans. Their associate head coach Darren Erman.
Darren has made a name for himself over the last 6 years as a premier defensive assistant in the NBA. His first NBA assistant head coaching job came in 2008 under the tutelage of yet another 'superstar assistant' by the name of Tim Thibodeau. In his very first season as an NBA assistant coach, Darren was a part of an NBA championship team. He got to watch Thibs orchestrate a defense around Kevin Garnett, got to take notes from Doc Rivers on how to keep players happy, and got the all-important experience that is required to become an NBA head coach. Thibodeau left Boston at the end of the 2009-2010 season, in which the Boston Celtics were eliminated in the Finals by the Los Angeles Lakers, and Darren soon followed suit.
Moving on to greener pastures, Darren soon found himself in the Bay Area with a group of young guys and a crazy head coach above him. The year before Erman joined the team, the Warriors had the 26th ranked defense in the NBA. In his first year there they had the 27th ranked defense. Not a good start, ok. But here's where it gets good. In his second season with the Warriors, they jumped from 27th to 14th and even took the San Antonio Spurs to 6 games in the second round of the playoffs. The Warriors continued to improve in Erman's third (and final) season with the Warriors, jumping from 14th to 4th place and showing their potential to be elite. As we all know, the Warriors are still a defensive force to this day while running the same defensive system Darren put into place all those years ago. It's a real testament to his abilities. But even with his abilities at a head coach, it's still hard to avoid controversy when you're sitting lower in the pecking order than a nut like Marc Jackson. So off Erman went to another home, back to Boston, where he would take the reigns of their defense as well. And it went about as expected. In Erman's sole year with the Celtics, he had their defense jump 6 places (18th to 12th), and they continued to grow the next season, even sneaking into the top 5 by the end of the very next season.
And Erman did all of this in just 4 years before coming to New Orleans. He took two bad defensive teams and turned them into defensive powerhouses. He learned from the best defensive coach of the last 3 decades, one of the best player management coaches of the last 2 decades, and experienced more winning than most coaches claim in 40-year careers. And he's since been using his vast knowledge of NBA defenses to improve the Pelicans. In two years as the associate head coach in New Orleans, Erman has pushed the Pels from a perennial bottom 10 defense (12-13: 28th; 13-14: 27th; 14-15: 22nd; 15-16: 27th) to a top 10 defense in the NBA (16-17: 9th). He did the unthinkable.
For years with Monty Williams at the helm, the Pelicans were a pitiful defensive team that ran great offensive sets but ran at a really low pace, so it was hard to outscore teams since their defense was so atrocious. Those problems were thought to be a thing of the past with Alvin Gentry coming in, as he was supposed to take our safe and boring offense and transform it into a 7 Seconds or Less Suns-lite. But alas the Pelicans offense has only gotten worse over time with Gentry at the helm.
I imagine if Erman was around when Monty was the head coach we could've been an elite defensive team with a very smart, methodical offense in the same mold as the Spurs, but those dreams are dead. Monty is gone and we have to look towards the future. And the future is the 40-year-old with a strange past, Darren Erman.