Brian Shaw may be a very good NBA coach one day, but it won't be because of his year and a half with the Denver Nuggets.
Call it a marriage between a perfect square and a symmetrical round hole. Shaw's an old-school Phil Jackson disciple that wants to play traditionally and expects his players to be men. He was handed an idiosyncratic team full of swingmen that succeeded by playing small and in spite of its own immaturity. All this for an organization that's known to be one of the league's most dysfunctional ones.
But Shaw certainly didn't help matters by tripping over himself in a desperate attempt to understand his team. He too often played the part of the dad trying to be cool while embarrassing his child, except it wasn't endearing as much as it was depressing. You started to feel bad for him until you realized that the modern NBA player really isn't that hard to reach. He was either too strict or too lose; both too bad cop and too good cop. "Brian Shaw is a habitual line stepper," read one fitting Denver Stiffs headline in early November.
The end result was a listless club that underachieved badly while quitting on the head man. Here's a brief history of some of the weirder revelations from his coaching career.
"We want to play inside out"
The Nuggets won 57 games in 2012-13 by going small, pushing the pace, spreading teams out and not playing with a traditional center. And yet, Shaw wanted to scrap most of that in his first training camp. Via ESPN LA:
"It won't be the same break-neck pace that it was last year," Shaw said. "My experience playing here (in L.A.), we played the Sacramento Kings, the Phoenix Suns, teams that got up and down, made it a fast pace and won a lot of games during the regular season that didn't necessarily translate to going deep into the playoffs.
"So, we will play a more traditional style in terms of trying to develop an inside game. Trying to get better in halfcourt execution and being a better defensive and a better rebounding team. So, the pace will be a little bit slower. We still want to take advantage of our speed and the youth that we have, especially when we're playing at home, but it will be a more traditional style of inside-out play."
"It does seem that the Nuggets are intent on focusing on an inside-out approach featuring JaVale McGee," wrote Denver Stiffs after the first preseason game last year. Can't believe THAT didn't work. Eventually, Shaw realized his error and changed his emphasis in the next season's training camp.
The Andre Miller feud
Andre Miller was George Karl's favorite player. By far. The veteran point guard was a key cog in Karl's 2012-13 team, but Shaw and him never got along. The relationship soured for good when Shaw elected to sit Miller against the Philadelphia 76ers, ending Miller's consecutive games streak at 239. Miller blasted Shaw in plain sight, earning himself a two-game suspension. From the Denver Post:
Miller yelled about the disrespect he felt he was being shown by sitting. And if he was being disrespected, he'd do the same to the Nuggets' first-year head coach.
"There's a time and place for everything," Shaw said. "In the middle of the arena in front of everyone ... I just tried to calm it down."
Miller was suspended for two games and eventually was sent home before a February trade to the Washington Wizards. A year later, he said Shaw acted unprofessionally. Via the Washington Post:
"I think the Denver situation, it was just unprofessional, really, on their part," Miller said. "I think a lot of people take me as a quiet guy being nice and you can just say whatever and do whatever and me not respond. All I did was be a veteran and speak up for my teammates in Denver. I didn't challenge the coach. I just said we needed better communication. I was doing my job over there. Top-five bench in the league and there was no reason DNP-ing me without at least communicating it to me. Pull me to the side as a veteran, respectfully. You're a coach in this league, you played in this league. Pull me to the side, ‘Hey Andre, this is how we feel. We're going to try something different.'
Miller wasn't the only point guard that feuded with Shaw. It took just nine games for Jameer Nelson to call out Shaw and his assistants following a midseason trade this year.
And then, there's Ty Lawson.
A rocky relationship with Ty Lawson
Shaw had a love/hate relationship with his star point guard. There were times when he praised Lawson effusively and it seemed like they were overcoming their issues. There were other times when he couldn't reach him at all. It all culminated when Lawson skipped the team's first practice after the All-Star break with no advance notice.
"We had a week off or nine days between games, and you expect everybody to be here," Shaw said. "It disrupts the planning of everything, in terms of you count on somebody in practice. But he's not here so we had to go without him."
Lawson later cited travel issues, but the message was sent. The two had "several tense locker-room moments this season," reports Grantland's Zach Lowe.
Accusing his players of tanking
There's no reason for players to lose on purpose, not when their teams can release or trade them before they see the future payoff. But that's (sort of) what Shaw suggested his team was doing in late January this year:
"I think it's hard to try to lose, try to tank, try to go out there with guys who are competing with you and not compete back," he said. " It's harder to do that than to just put forth the effort in the first place."
Shaw said he suspects his players may be trying to lose.
"It just looks like you almost have to try to lose as bad, and in the way we've been losing," he said. "At that point, something gives. The decision-makers at some point are going to make a decision. And everybody is going to have to live with it. Then it's out of our control.
"The only thing I can control is doing my job to the best of my ability. And that's what I expect them to do. Do I feel like that's always been the case? No. Do I share responsibility in that? Yeah."
It's funny how Arron Afflalo and Nelson show up, and yet the story remains that the team is not coming with the right stuff in games. If the Nuggets trade for Brook Lopez, how long before Shaw questions his effort?
[General manager]Tim Connelly can keep bringing in "Shaw guys," but what player has been a Shaw guy thus far?
The Nuggets responded by falling way behind and eventually losing to the lowly 76ers.
Relating to millenials
This is sad:
He took away cellphones during meetings
This is sadder:
He rapped scouting reports
He said he's been trying everything to get his players motivated through a series of injuries and the trading of starting center Timofey Mozgov for draft picks (sound familiar?).
Shaw even admitted to rapping a pregame personnel report. Seriously.
"My players party too much to go to shootaround"
OK, that's not exactly what Shaw said, but it's basically what he said.
There are a couple of reasons for the change. The first is because of sleep studies the Nuggets have seen that show additional uninterrupted rest has a positive impact on the players' attention and energy.
The second reason? "When you have a young team, you know, guys like to go out as well," Shaw said. "Am I torturing them by making them get up in the morning when they can be sleeping? And whatever it is they did the night before, maybe they have more time to recover as well."
The experiment has since ended.
1 2 3 ... 6 weeks!
Ace Denver Post reporter Chris Dempsey caught the team shouting this rally cry during a blowout home loss to the Utah Jazz on Friday.
A fourth-quarter huddle late in the Nuggets' 104-82 loss to the Utah Jazz on Friday broke with this phrase: "1-2-3 ... six weeks!"
As in six weeks to go until the end of the season. That's 24 games, 46 days and 1,152 minutes away.
It mirrored Nick Van Exel shouting "1 2 3 ... CANCUN" during the 1998 playoffs. Shaw denied the intent of the message:
"I said, probably three or four days ago in practice, that we hadn't won a home game in six weeks," Shaw said. "Which dated back to Jan.14, against the Dallas Mavericks, was the last time we won a home game here, which was six weeks ago. So, the comment that the players made when they got together and said '1, 2, 3, six weeks!' was the players saying 'this is the end of the six weeks, we're going to get a win tonight on our home court and break the six-week losing spell on our home court.' Not six weeks that it's the end of the season."
Either way, it didn't work: the Nuggets lost by 22 to the 23-35 Jazz. That result, more than any, finally convinced the Nuggets to pull the plug on the Shaw experiment. The fired coach was dealt a poor hand, but he turned it into something far worse than it should have been.
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