Brian Shaw has earned his first head coaching opportunity. The Los Angeles Lakers should let another team give it to him.
To fully understand what the Lakers require in their next head coach means understanding the man they are replacing. The key to choosing the right successor therein lies in understanding Phil Jackson's magic (not to be confused with Earvin's "Magic", of course).
Other writers with far more knowledge (read: access) are better qualified to dissect and explain Jackson's coaching successes, but any fan who has invested time into any of the last 20 playoff tournaments knows that Jackson is unique because he recognizes and appreciates his players' disparate personalities in ways other coaches cannot.
The responsibilities of a basketball coach are not unlike those of a manager in any other less heavily glorified field, be it a restaurant, a police department, an insurance company, a law firm, etc. Good managers know their trade and possess the ability to instruct their employees how to do it. Great managers know their employees and possess the ability to motivate them.
The 2011-2012 Los Angeles Lakers will be a veteran team equipped with the knowledge and experience gained from three consecutive trips to the NBA Finals.
Do you think the Lakers lost to Dallas because they didn't know how to rotate on defense or because they didn't know when to cut to the basket?
Go ahead and mark your calendar right now for a first-round playoff date at Staples Center next year. Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol and Lamar Odom and Derek Fisher and most every other player on that team knows how to play winning basketball. But they'll need a coach to give them the juice and the glue to push them through to the end.
To do that, the Los Angeles Lakers will need a coach that has refined his approach through both success and failure. The sudden emergence of precocious squads in Chicago and Oklahoma City (and dare I say, Memphis), combined with the existence of powerhouses in Miami, Dallas and Boston, is nudging the Lakers' window of title competitiveness to a close.
The margin of error is too small to allow a rookie head coach the time to find his way. The Lakers can't afford to give away playoff games while their coach is learning how to reach his players.
The Lakers will need a coach who has demonstrated that his on-court tactics and off-court tact can combine into a single voice to reach even the most difficult player. I am sure Jackson has done this. Rick Adelman, too. Even Mike Dunleavy (Really). Shaw has not done this. Not yet.
I like Shaw. He was a steady veteran on the Shaq and Kobe title teams and took his place in Lakers' lore next to other beloved role players like A.C. Green, Byron Scott, Michael Cooper and Mychal Thompson.
Kobe Bryant, who's a pretty important guy last I checked, endorses him. And why wouldn't he? By all accounts, Shaw is a "player's coach", that redundant title we bestow upon coaches we don't see yelling a lot on our televisions. Players have always seemed to like him, respect him and be happy to play for him. (If you don't think that's a factor in team success, go talk to John Kuester in Detroit.)
Shaw's supporters, and there are more than a few, call for continuity. Shaw's hiring presumably ensures the return of the famed triangle offense along with most of the coaching staff. For a team that could stand pat this summer and still scare the stuffing out of the rest of the Western Conference in October, it's not a certainty that sweeping changes are the answer. The promise of the status quo may be Shaw's strongest argument.
But while all of these things are well and good, they're not great. They don't show us the best solution. For those of you unfamiliar with L.A. culture, take it from a native: "Good" doesn't cut it. Lakers fans, bred on the hearty nourishment of 16 championships, expect the best.
Shaw may be a great head coach one day. He may even be a great head coach this fall. But in this city, with this talented and battle-hardened team, the Los Angeles Lakers shouldn't be gambling. They should go with the sure thing. Then, in four or five years, when they know Shaw is a great coach, they can bring him back.