The Los Angeles Lakers have a real coaching dilemma, and it is not just if current head coach Phil Jackson will return or retire. The Lakers have an invaluable asset on their bench that they must keep.
Scary news came out of LA just yesterday that the Lakers have granted permission for the Cleveland Cavaliers organization to interview Lakers assistant coach Brian Shaw for their head coaching opening. These are dangerous times in LA.
Shaw has been part of the franchise for over 10 years. He won three rings playing in the Shaq/Kobe days and then joined Phil Jackson’s staff, first as a scout and then, since Phil returned in his second stint with the Lakers, Shaw has been an assistant on the bench.
Brian Shaw has been a winner everywhere he’s been. He literally put the UC Santa Barbara Gauchos (UCSB, my alma mater, by the way) basketball team on the national map in the late 1980s with wins over NCAA Champs Nevada-Las Vegas, the Runnin' Rebels.
And, Shaw was the leader of those college teams that made the NCAA tourney. UCSB has been a basketball school ever since.
Shaw was drafted in the first round by the Boston Celtics (one pick ahead of the Lakers, if you can believe it) but ended up first playing in Europe. He then returned two years later to the NBA and remained a quality NBA player for over 10 years.
His early notoriety came with the Orlando Magic where he teamed with a younger Shaquille O’Neal for what was known as the “Shaw/Shaq Redemption.” The point guard, Shaw, would throw countless alley-oop passes to Shaq Diesel to throw down, thus earning that nickname as a play on words from the movie The Shawshank Redemption.
Shaw came to the Lakers in 1999 (especially since he had good relations with Shaq) and was a key veteran on the three-in-a-row championship team.
But Shaw’s real asset is his mind. He learned and now knows the triangle offense nearly as well as Jackson. That is invaluable to the Lakers.
Here’s why: the next coach of the Lakers, whether Jackson comes back, Shaw gets promoted, or some out of left field choice comes in, that coach MUST run the triangle offense.
Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol, plus the rest of the NBA Champion Lakers, will NOT learn a new offense. They will continue to run the triangle until Kobe retires. Take that to the bank.
So, if we take running the triangle as the key criteria for any new coach, then that leaves Phil returning or handing over the reigns to Shaw.
What other coach is even out who that can run the triangle? Kurt Rambis is in Minnesota and Dr. Jerry Buss was never going to let him be head coach in the first place, even though Rambis knows the triangle inside and out.
Based on all of this, the Lakers have to retain Shaw. Just yesterday, general manger Mitch Kupchak stated that he had in fact given permission for the Cleveland Cavaliers to interview Shaw.
It seems that LeBron James would like to play in the triangle offense. And Shaw is a top candidate.
This is scary for Lakers fans. Shaw is a hot commodity. It speaks volume of his coaching talent that Cleveland wants to interview him.
But Shaw is also not stupid. He won’t take the Cleveland job, if it is even offered, until James decides where he goes. And I only see Shaw going to Cleveland if LeBron returns.
Shaw is in the massive driver's seat. He has in his reach the head coach job of the Lakers or coaching LeBron. But the Lakers need to step up and keep him. They can’t let him go.
Here’s why: Say Jackson returns and coaches one more season. There are no guarantees he returns the following year. If Shaw leaves now, this summer, for a head coach spot, say with the Cavs or somewhere else, who do the Lakers get who knows the triangle?
There is no coach out there who is respected enough to coach Kobe and knows the triangle. Kobe respects Shaw. He’s said it, Jackson has said it. Shaw earned that respect from Kobe in his playing days and nothing has changed.
There is only one move to make here for the Lakers: Keep Brian Shaw.
We can only be so lucky that Jackson decides he’s had enough, he chooses to leave on top like Seinfeld in the 1990s or Pete Sampras in tennis and he retires when he still has something in the tank.
That doesn’t happen often in sports (see Muhammad Ali as the textbook example or even Michael Jordan), but Jackson has the real opportunity to go out on top.
Jackson retiring also ensures the Lakers' success. They can promote Shaw and keep everything status quo. Let Kobe and the rest of the Lakers do their thing, run the triangle, and rack up a couple more rings.
Let’s hope the Lakers give Shaw a real shot at redemption. Only time will tell.