Brian Shaw has been a popular name in coaching searches for the past few years now, but his long journey to become a head coach in the NBA finally came to an end on Monday when he was hired by the Denver Nuggets, as reported by Sam Amick of USA Today.
Shaw will take over a team that won 57 games a season ago but lost in the first round of the playoffs to the Golden State Warriors and fired George Karl, despite his winning the NBA Coach of the Year Award.
The 47-year-old Shaw is now a head coach over a decade in the making, his journey starting back before he even retired as a player.
Later Days in the NBA
Denver's new head coach was never an excellent basketball player. He had his moments as a solid backup. He was a fine fill-in starter, and his defense got better as his legs got older.
So why is it that a guy who shot over 40 percent from the field just four times, was never a reliable spot-up shooter, and was an average defender even at his best, lasted 14 years in the NBA?
As a career backup point guard, Shaw was always fast not only to learn his new team's system, but also to learn how to play alongside his new teammates.
Whether it was hanging out with the magnificent passing duo of Larry Bird and Kevin McHale (with some underrated dimes from Kevin Gamble and Dee Brown), hitting Glen Rice for corner threes, throwing alley-oops to Shaquille O'Neal, or picking up Phil Jackson's triangle offense from Day 1, Shaw had a knack for learning basketball.
However, he didn't fully take on that "coach on the floor" role until his final stretch with the Los Angeles Lakers.
Shaw's final four seasons were defined by his ability to make the right decision, which is the most important thing the ball-handler can do in Jackson's offense.
Eventually he became Derek Fisher's backup, who has basically become the current-day version of Shaw, only he's doing everything possible to play until his lower body falls off.
Thanks to the Lakers, Shaw was able to extend his career into his late 30s before he retired after the 2003 season.
More Time in Los Angeles
His first gig following playing in the league was serving as a scout for the Lakers in Oakland.
Jackson returned to the helm of the team in 2005 after a single-season hiatus, and Shaw was one of the men he nabbed to join him as an assistant.
The other two assistants? Just Kurt Rambis, a Los Angeles assistant for over a decade, and Frank Hamblen, who would retire with Phil Jackson and seven championship rings to his name.
There was no secret that Jackson was putting together an elite coaching staff to help bring the Lakers back from the brink. They would add Jim Cleamons, who was an assistant to Jackson for four titles in Chicago and three in Los Angeles up to that point.
Basically what the Lakers had was a bunch of Jedi-level NBA coaches, and Shaw was to be their Luke Skywalker.
I suppose that would mean Jackson was Yoda, which—despite the green skin and short stature—is a magnificent comparison.
Not only was Shaw being groomed to coach (Cleamons and Hamblen were both getting old, and Rambis would leave to join the Timberwolves in 2009), he was being groomed to compete against the future wave of NBA head coaches.
Back in 2010, Shaw talked to the Los Angeles Times about the scouting process Jackson had during the season, and how he would determine which assistant sized up which team:
With me I know he [Jackson] specifically said, I'm going to give you teams that have coaches that are your contemporaries and your age — guys that you played against that are coaching now because you're young and at some point when you become the head coach, you'll be coaching against these guys. They'll still be coaching, so start familiarizing yourself with them now.
Titles came in 2009 and 2010, and then came the end of the road in 2011.
Going in Another Direction
2011 was the last season for Jackson. It felt that way long before any announcement was made.
However, the popular opinion was that Jackson's legacy would live on through Shaw, who had been working for the Lakers in some capacity every season but two since 1999. Los Angeles at least granted Shaw an interview with the likes of Jim Buss and Mitch Kupchak, which seemed like little more than a formality at the time.
As we know now, the Lakers not only hired Mike Brown, but never told Shaw that he wouldn't be hired as the team's new head coach. In fact, Shaw found out Brown was hired only because he happened to be watching television at the time.
Needless to say, it was a low point for both the organization and Shaw himself.
Looking back on his interview, Shaw gave Ian Thomsen of Sports Illustrated some insight into what went wrong and the relationship between Jackson and the younger Buss, who was in charge of picking the new head coach:
Phil let me know going into the interview [with the Lakers] for me to almost disassociate myself from him, that anything that I said about him or the triangle system would hurt me because of his lack of relationship with Jimmy Buss. So when I did interview, that was the point that I tried to make about the fact that I had played for Phil only my last four years, and that I played for all of these other coaches.
After being blown off by the Lakers, Shaw decided that enough was enough.
Hitching his Trailer in the Midwest
After shaking off the shock of being cast aside, Shaw took a few interviews for assistant gigs elsewhere, eventually landing under Frank Vogel in Indiana.
While he was in a fine situation with an up-and-coming team, becoming a head coach was Shaw's goal.
Perhaps the most puzzling moment of his quest to become a head coach was his interview with the Nets, who ended up hiring Jason Kidd, just days after he retired, over Shaw, who has been learning how to be a head coach for a decade.
Of course, that's all in the past now, as are all the rough patches that Shaw has had to endure since 2011.
Now he's on to Denver, where his mettle will truly be tested.
However, after making the playoffs 11 times in 14 seasons as a player, eight of his nine years as an assistant coach, and winning five NBA titles in the process, you've got to like his odds.
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