On today’s episode of CelticsPod, we are joined by Maine Red Claws head coach Darren Erman to discuss his first season leading a G-League team.
Darren signed with the Red Claws in late October 2019 and was quickly introduced to life in the NBA G-League. Before his opportunity to coach the Red Claws, Darren had experienced the trials and tribulations of leading a team in Summer League on two previous occasions, something which he likens to meeting his Red Claws squad for the first time.
“It kinda reminded me a little bit of Summer League, because you have your draft picks, you have your guys trying to make it, and also guys who have been in the league and are trying to get back in. I have been fortunate enough to coach Summer League twice, so it was similar to that.”
Darren places high importance on building a personal relationship with his players, citing the relationships between players and coaches multiple times throughout the interview.
“Just getting to know them on a personal level, building relationships, it was great. We had a great, great group of guys. They got along great on and off the court. We were very lucky to have the chemistry we did.”
One of the most significant differences between coaching at the G-League level and the NBA level is defining a player’s role within the roster. A player can be a focal point of the offense in one game and hardly play in the next, due to the addition and subtraction of two-way players and the assignment of fringe NBA role players. Creating consistency in an ever evolving world is one of Erman’s biggest challenges.
“It’s very fluid, because roles always change in the G-League, whether Tacko is with us or Tremont is with us. There’s a time when Carsen and Romeo are there, so roles are always changing; it’s a really difficult league to define roles.”
So how does Darren manage the consistent flux within the teams’ hierarchy?
“One thing we try to do is meet with each player about once a week, go over so film with them, have some player development days. Development days, players would meet with me, and I will go over some film with them, discuss their role with them, as their roles are always changing it helps to have those frequent meetings with them.”
The uncertainty surrounding each player and their role within the team from week-to-week has the potential to impact a player’s motivation directly, something which Darren has been aware of and was keen to ensure didn’t become a factor in his teams’ performances.
“I explain to them that if you play the right way and play hard, you get to where you want to be. Winning makes people notice you, and that motivates those guys to want to win, David Nwaba is a great example. He averaged like 14 points in the G-League and played really hard, made it to the NBA and never looked back.”
In the G-League, it’s not just players that are there to improve. Coaches and their staff are all learning on the job. Erman himself has spent time as an assistant coach with the Warriors and the championship Celtics team in 2008, but is still trying to grow. When a coach is continually improving, they look inwards to see how their approach has changed and where they can improve next, be that team management or X’s and O’s.
“The biggest thing I learned was, ATO’s were not as important as I thought. In time-outs, you want to win the next three or four minutes, but managing your team and your coaching staff are all opportunities you have in the G-League. The G-League has been a great growth experience for me personally.”
With the Red Claws being the Boston Celtics’ affiliate G-League team, there has to be some level of communication between clubs, but how much? Darren discusses the level of communication he has with the big club every week.
“I talk to someone in the front office four or five times a week, maybe more. I spoke with somebody from the coaching staff a little bit less about what the Celtics are doing and putting in because we’re not there, so we don’t know all the concepts being put in throughout the season. And the front office has a vested interest in the two-way guys, making sure and seeing how we’re coaching the guys and developing them.”
As the interview naturally progressed, the subject inevitably found its way to Boston’s two-way players, Tacko Fall and Tremont Waters, along with the younger players that also spent time in Maine, Romeo Langford and Carsen Edwards.
With the fanfare that surrounds Tacko wherever he goes, it was interesting to hear from a coach’s perspective how the team reacted to the added media presence at G-League games.
“I feel like that was more of a reflection on Tacko and him as a person. Tacko is such a high character person, and everyone was just happy for Tacko when the media was there for Tacko, or the visiting fans were cheering for him, and everyone was happy for him. It’s just Tacko being Tacko.”
When players are sent to the G-League to improve their games, it makes sense that Darren provided fans with updates on Tremont and Tacko, who spent large portions of the season in Maine.
“I felt he became an elite level pick-and-roll defender, an elite rim protector. We worked on that a lot. He was very coachable; he has a lot of abilities I know Danny Ainge likes. He works on his craft and (has) become better at understanding spacing on offense and rolling on offense, getting out of the pick-and-roll to put pressure on the defense. There were many games where you could see the improvements. He was changing ends much better.”
“He has all the tools in the world, and he’s going to make it. He’s a magician with the basketball and sees the game at a high level. You don’t want to control that type of gifted player. You have to let Tremont play, and that’s when you see the best of him.”
“I called him one time and said, ‘Carsen, you should be proud of yourself. We’re winning when you come to the Red Claws’ because we’re winning. He’s trying to play the game the right way. There were games when he had to shoot for us. He helped us beat Greensborough on a back-to-back where he had a 40-point game. There were other times where he fit right in, he was learning shot selection, and his defense was good. He even played the three for us. Sometimes, we challenged him to guard the better players in the G-League, and I thought he was really good.”
Overall, this was a fascinating interview, providing insight into the inner workings of the Celtics’ G-League team while also providing a coach’s opinion on the Celtics players who spent large portions of time in Maine.