|Chris Ryan: Brian Shaw...and Being a Coach in a GM’s League
On Sunday afternoon, I found myself in Louis Armstrong International Airport in New
Orleans, staring at Kenneth Faried. He was standing in line at Copeland’s Cheesecake
Scoop Cafe. He was lost in his music — wearing enormous Beats headphones — and,
presumably, cheesecake. Faried’s flight back to Denver was delayed. But given the
way the first half of the Nuggets’ season ended, I can’t imagine he was in any great
hurry to leave New Orleans.
Denver dropped its final four games before the break as well as its first contest after
(Tuesday night, against Phoenix). Before it broke for All-Star Weekend, it got smashed
by 39 by the Pacers, and lost by 27 in Minnesota. The Nuggets sit at 24-28, with many
of those wins coming early in the season. Ty Lawson’s career year has been curtailed
by a nagging injury. JaVale McGee and Nate Robinson look like they are both done for
the season. Danilo Gallinari is still recovering from the knee injury he sustained during
last season’s playoffs and is not expected back on the floor until the 2014-15 campaign.
Andre Miller has been sent packing after a blowup with coach Brian Shaw. And
Faried looks like a shadow of his former Manimal self.
For as much as this season has been shaped by injury, the real story in Denver is one
of management. High on thin air and running all the stop signs, George Karl’s 2012-13
Nuggets were everyone’s second-favorite team. After a disappointing first-round
playoff exit, Karl was fired and the highly regarded Masai Ujiri migrated north to
Toronto to work with Drake.
Enter Brian Shaw. The former Lakers guard had a reputation for developing talent,
shaping problem cases into borderline All-Stars. His two crowning achievements were
Andrew Bynum in Los Angeles and Lance Stephenson in Indiana. Whatever Denver
would lose in tempo (Shaw was always going to install the triangle, wherever he
wound up), it would gain in a young coach who seemed to be able to take players to
A 24-28 record actually seems pretty respectable for a team that hasn’t had Gallinari
all season, and that has suffered through long absences from Miller and Lawson. But
going into the second half of the season, the mood in Denver doesn’t seem any better
than Faried’s demeanor at the airport.
“I’m not even talking about playoffs now. We have to get back to the point where we
can just play a complete 48 minutes and feel what it’s like to win a game.”
That’s Shaw, quoted in Benjamin Hochman’s revealing state-of-the-franchise column
from the Denver Post. In that piece, you get a picture of a coach struggling to impose
a set of standards and a style of play on a not entirely willing constituency, and
without the absolute clear backing of the front office. Which brings up two questions:
1. In the modern NBA, with all the player power, all the fetishizing of front offices,
how much say does a coach have in how a team plays, and who plays for him?
2. Is this why it took so long for Shaw to get a shot at head coaching in the first place?
Let’s table the first question for a second. Shaw is a no-******** guy who came up
under the wings of the most successful coach in the last three decades of basketball:
Phil Jackson. Yes, Jackson had four of the greatest players of all time (Shaq, Kobe,
Jordan, Pippen), but between the Zen Master routine, popularizing the triangle, and
his obvious success at motivating very rich and very successful men to keep striving
for greatness, he will be remembered as the brains behind those teams, no matter
the contributions of Tex Winter, Jim Cleamons, and the three Jerrys (Buss, West,
Shaw is a product of a basketball culture in which the coach was the university
professor, psychologist, interrogator, father figure, and voice of God. He’s also a
product of the ’90s NBA — forearms to the throat if you dared drive the lane, games
played under one lightbulb, etc. When Shaw teed off and did this “get off my lawn”
routine about his players wearing the signature sneakers of their opponents...
“Being on the Lakers, when guys would wear Kobe’s shoes when we
were playing against him, he always would, in his mind feel ‘I got him,
because he’s wearing my shoes.’ So, the guys who do wear KDs, we
were talking yesterday; ‘Are you really going to wear these tomorrow
when we play him?’”
...you can imagine Faried, McGee, and a couple of other Nuggets players sitting
there, making the jerk-off motion. Take something as innocuous as the sneaker
comment, and add it to Shaw coming into Denver and replacing a run-and-gun style
with an inside-outside, half-court offense, and top it off with his fallout with the
notoriously cantankerous Miller, and you see a guy who is an anomaly in today’s
NBA: a coach who runs his team not as some part of a larger management system,
but as the central voice of power in the franchise.
Maybe this is why...CONTINUE READING AT GRANTLAND