Talking With: Brian Shaw
In his four years as a Laker, Brian Shaw never averaged more than 5.3 points or 3.2 assists, yet he had a profound effect on the team during their threepeat run. A steadying influence on the court and a respected presence in the locker room, Phil Jackson leaned on Shaw for crunch time minutes, and was usually rewarded. He used to be a coach on the floor. Now he's a Laker assistant and, more than likely, a future NBA head coach. I had a chance to talk with Shaw Tuesday afternoon at the Lakers practice facility in El Segundo.
Brian Kamenetzky: Talk about the process of coaching for you, moving from being a player to being a coach.
Brian Shaw: The first year I stopped playing, Phil told me I needed to kind of distance myself from the guys a little bit, because it was all the guys I played with, so I could come back and have more of a respect factor from the coaching angle and not just be so buddy, buddy with everybody. But it was still kind of tough because you still feel like you can play. The toughest thing is standing up in practice in one spot for two hours and not moving. I've never had any problems with my back, but now my back is constantly tight just from standing around. So I want to get out there and actually get into some drills and get moving so that everything kind of loosens up.
BK: Do you have to fight that urge?
BS: Yeah, I do. And then a lot of times what ends up happening after practice is that some of the young guys will challenge you. So I end up playing three on three or playing some of the shooting games and then that kind of keeps me connected.
BK: What style have you developed as a coach. Have you been around it long enough to do that?
BS: I like the triangle offense, but every game that we play, if there's one or two wrinkles out of (our opponent's) offense or defensive scheme, I keep a book with all the different ideas that I like. Overall, I like pressure defense, I like an aggressive rotating defense, and I like the ball to move on the offense and for everybody to get a touch and feel like they're part of the game. Being a point guard, for me it's vital to have good guard play, and a point guard that's aware that maybe this guy hasn't touched the ball the last three or four times down the court, so you've got to give him a touch to keep him involved in the game.
BK: You mentioned the triangle, and I'm sure that comes from Phil and Tex and guys like that. Who are some of your other inspirations and models in coaching?
BS: My college coach, Jerry Pimm, as well as Ben Howland who's at UCLA now. Ben Howland was an assistant with me at UC Santa Barbara. He's the one who actually recruited me there. I've been around more so great players, with Bird, McHale, Parish--(interrupted by a beverage-delivering Sasha Vujacic, his punishment for losing a free throw shooting game to Shaw. "This is what happens when you win," Shaw said). So from the players that I've been around, work ethic and what it takes to make certain players great- like it's not an accident that Bird was as good as he was or that Kobe is as good as he is, because they put in their work. They dedicate their time, they have a respect for the game and you can see that in how they approach the game. Coaching wise, I've been under Phil obviously, I played under Larry Brown for half a season. But just going back to my high school coach who drilled us on fundamentals. You see so many players now at this level that don't have any fundamentals at all, so I think that's really important.
I like Phil's brand of doing things. He allows players to figure things out for themselves and challenges you mentally every single day. He's not going to baby you, so if you're not mentally tough you're not going to be able to handle the system. And I like that because it makes you mature and it makes you responsible for your actions out on the floor.
BK: You talked about the time commitment it takes to be a great player. Is it larger as a coach?
BS: It's definitely more. It's definitely a time commitment. If you think about it, if the team has to be in let's say at ten o'clock, the coaches have to come in an hour and a half, two hours before that to get the practice plan ready, to watch film of the game the night before, the adjustments we're going to make and what have you. Then after everybody leaves, then you go through the practice. You stay out there, you're doing more work and you're preparing. And when you go home, you're watching the games that are going on against your upcoming opponents, so it just never stops. And it's easy to get consumed in it, but you have to be consumed in it in order to be aware of everything that's going on. Constantly things are changing. Personnel is changing.
So that's what's amazing about Phil. I'm not adverse to putting in time and working, but sometimes it seems like he's not paying attention, but then he'll just pop up and say something and you're like, "Damn, I missed that on the film. How did he catch that?" He's just been around it long enough, he's real sharp and seen it enough times that he can pick things out a lot quicker than any of the rest of us can. I guess that just comes with his experience.
BK: I remember watching you on TV when you were in Boston, going way back, and you were always described as somebody who would be a great coach someday. Is that something you thought about doing since you got into the league?
BS: It is. Like you said, a lot of people have said that to me over the years. Actually, Frank Hamblen when I was here, my first or second year here, started encouraging me to come to their coaches meetings, he started giving me copies of the scouting reports, and he was like, "Learn how to do this stuff, because you're going to do this when you're done playing." And I kind of laughed at it then, but as I started getting towards the end of my playing days, the opportunity presented itself for me to go into it. But I felt like I had the proper training, the right mentality, the patience. I feel like I can motivate guys on the floor, whether it's talking a little stuff to them to get them going.
One game, we played Golden State, the first time we played them up in Oakland this year, I went over to Baron Davis, who was talking to Smush Parker before the game. I said, "Baron, he was talking all kinds of stuff about you in the locker room about how he doesn't respect your game and he's gonna go at you tonight," because I wanted Smush to be alert and right on top of his game from the very beginning. And Smush played one of his best games of the year. But he had to, because once I said that to Baron, I knew Baron was going to go at him.
BK: Was it true?
BS: No, he didn't say that at all. But the first game I played as a rookie was against Detroit and Larry Bird did that to me. He went over to Isiah (Thomas) and said, "Hey our rookie said he's just gonna post you up. He doesn't respect your game, that you're overrated." I didn't know that he said that. So the whole first quarter, Isiah is just isolating me on the side, just going one on one against me. And I'd been watching film, and that's not how they normally played. So in my mind, I'm like, "What's going on? Why is this guy going at me like he is?" And I looked over at Larry, and he's just laughing. During the timeouts he's just cracking up. So finally at halftime, he told me what he said to Isiah. So I kind of employ some of the same things and techniques from guys in my playing days, employ some of the same tricks and the same tactics.
BK: It's always been written that when you were a player, that you had a good relationship with Kobe. That you had his ear, that he would listen to you. Is that relationship now, as a coach, something you've been able to bring in? Especially now that his role on the team is different than it was when you were playing?
BS: I think so. Our relationship goes back to the year that I went and played in Italy, and I played against his father. So I knew him when he was nine, ten years old. And so when I got here, that part of it, I got his attention just from him being familiar with me from years back. But also, we've had confrontations many a time. And I think he respects the fact that we want the same thing, but I'm not gonna back down or compromise how I really see things and how I think that they should be. If I think he's dead wrong, I'm going to tell him. And he's going to respond because he's an alpha male and that's how he is. But I'm not going to sugarcoat anything. I'm going to say what I'm going to say, he's going to say what he's going to say. And I think he respects that.
A lot of times because he's on the level that he is, he can say something to guys- and he may be dead wrong- but because he's who he is, they'll just say okay, and tuck their tail and go the other way. And I think the teams that we had, Robert Horry, Rick Fox, and even Fisher, we were all guys that were role players on the team but he respected us because we weren't going to back down. We were going to say, "This is the right way to do things. You're young. Yes, you're talented, but there's still a right way to play the game, and this is how it needs to be done."
He's had his clashes with Phil, and with Shaq, and with everybody else, but he respects the guys- (Ron) Harper- who are going to tell him like it is. That are going to be straight up with him.
BK: Is that something that's especially important now that there are younger guys on the team, to still have guys around who will say, "You're wrong."
BS: It is, and we don't have any. I don't think we have one guy on the team who will stand up to him and say, if they were open and he shot the ball with three guys on him, "Hey, pass me the ball." You should have done this, or you should have done that. We don't have those types of personalities on this team. But the same thing that makes Kobe great as a player, it's like a blessing and a curse, or a gift and a curse or whatever you want to call it. He honestly in his mind feels like he can beat five people by himself. So he's always in attack mode. And you want to have that. You want to have someone that's always in attack mode, and he has that. And that's what makes him great. When you're in the foxhole with somebody, you want somebody to have your back that has that type of mentality.
The tough part is balancing it to the point that you can elevate your teammate's level of play and feel comfortable enough where you show them that you have confidence in them that, "Hey, he's open, I'm gonna make the right pass, he's gonna take the right shot, and it's gonna go in. If it doesn't we're in position to rebound." And he doesn't always do that. So you have to take the bad with the good. It's the same thing that makes him great, but at the same time it's the same thing that makes people say that he's selfish. But as a two guard in this league- the point guard is going to be unselfish, he's going to run the team- the two guard you need to be kind of greedy and selfish because you need him to score, and that's what he is, in attack mode, and he always needs to stay in that because he's probably the only guy on our team that can actually go and get his points and go and get shots. Everybody else needs a little bit of assistance.
BK: Is he getting better at it?
BS: He is. He is, actually. And what he normally does is at the beginning of games he will come out and be a little bit more passive and move the ball around. But if we start getting in a hole, in a double digit deficit, then that's when he says, "Okay, now I've got to just go ahead and do what I've got to do."
BK: All bets are off.
BS: So you know, he gives everybody a chance. I remember a game in Boston, I think it was 2002, 2001, I can't remember the season. Shaq was out, and Kobe shot 17-47 from the field. We were winning the game by a lot early on, and we ended up losing by a lot. So after the game reporters asked him, "Did you feel like you needed to take that volume of shots because Shaq was out of the lineup?" And he said, "No, I felt like I needed to take that amount of shots because the guys on my team weren't hitting shots." So then somebody said that if you look at the film, there were a lot of guys open in a lot of situations where you shot the ball. And he said "I still feel like with three or four people on me, I have a better chance of making it than one of my teammates that's wide open." And he said it with a straight face, and it hurt some of the feelings of some of the guys on the team. But I couldn't be mad at that because that's really, really how he feels.
BK: And if you take that away from him, he's not the same guy.
BS: Right. That's what makes him great. You can be down 18 with a minute left in the game, and he still feels like we have a chance. "I can win this game." So that's why a lot of times, even at the end of games Phil has him in the game. If we're getting blown out it might be the four last guys on the bench and Kobe's still in the game because he's still going to play it out until the very end. Until the last second clicks off the clock.
BK: I'll see you, after almost every practice it seems, drilling and shooting with Sasha or Smush. Can you talk a little about their development as young guards in this league?
BS: It's tough, because especially being here under Phil, and the things that I talked about earlier, he's not gonna baby you. And I don't think at the beginning of the season or even going back to this summer, I don't think anybody really expected for Smush Parker to be the starting point guard for the Lakers this year, or for Sasha to be sharing the minutes with him as he is. Both of them have come a long way from the beginning of the season. They still have a long way to go. But I think Smush has done very well. He's matched up against some of the really good guards in this league and showed that he belongs, and that there's a place for him.
I challenge them constantly, because I don't want them to get comfortable. I want Smush to stay hungry. He came into the league early out of Fordham, went down to the developmental league, and now he's back. And sometimes he has a tendency, and even Sasha, if they have a good game and we win or go on a little streak, to stick their chests out and be like, "Okay, I'm here now," and not give it what they need to give in practice. So I want them to always stay sharp, and always work as hard as they can. I'm a little bit- I shouldn't say a little bit, I'm a lot harsher on the two of them than anybody else on the team because they play the same position I played. And you have to be an extension of what the coaches want done out there on the floor.
And with them both being young and being inexperienced, it's tough for them when Phil calls something on the court and they're supposed to run it, but Kobe's on the other side going "Give me the ball!" and they have to make that decision. Do I give it to Kobe? Do I not give it to him and have him yelling at me, or do I run what the coaches are telling me to run?
BK: You've got Kobe yelling at you or Phil yelling at you.
BS: And usually it comes down to, if they're farther away from Phil, then they're going to do what Kobe says. But they have to get to the level where they have the respect of the guys on the team to the point where when they come down to do something, than the guys are going to follow their lead. That's what they're supposed to do. But like I said, they're both young, they're both inexperienced, but they've both come a long way. And offensively, I think they both get it. Sasha has a unique ability to irritate the hell out of other guards and get under their skin. Which is good. Last year, he was the worst defensive player we had on the team, and now he's actually one of the better defensive players. He's always up pressuring up the floor, and like I said, from Bibby to Claxton the other night (Sunday's win vs. New Orleans), whoever we play he irritates the hell out of other guards, so that works in our favor.
I just want them to get to a level of consistency where night in and night out we know we're going to get ten points and five assists and three rebounds from Smush, and we're going to get six points and whatever it's going to be (from Sasha). Not fluctuate to the point where some games Smush will have 20, and the next night turn around and only have two. Just a level of consistency so we can count on him.
BK: What do you think will mean more to you? Your first ring as a player, or as a head coach?
BS: Probably as a coach, if that ever happened. Because as a coach, you're responsible for the whole- as a player, you're just a part of what's going on. And as a coach, everything that happens is a reflection of you. So if your guys go out and execute, they play good defense, they play together, than you're doing something right. If they don't, then there's something missing. So with all the time that you put in as a coach, I think it will mean more because it's more satisfying because of the fact you know that, that thing that we talked about earlier, that commitment to time, it's so demanding that I'd have to say it'd probably be coaching.
(photo by Lori Shepler/LAT)