Lakers Q&A: Brian Shaw interested in succeeding Phil Jackson as Lakers coach
This is the fourth post in an occasional series of Q&As with a member of the Lakers organization. Below is a recent conversation with Lakers Assistant Coach Brian Shaw, who's in charge of game preparations for contests against the Golden State Warriors, Memphis Grizzlies, Phoenix Suns, Minnesota Timberwolves, Orlando Magic, Atlanta Hawks and Chicago Bulls.
You told [the L.A. Times' Mike Bresnahan] that this isn't something you're thinking about now, but obviously there's a strong possibility you'll be considered to take over as Lakers head coach. What kind of qualities do you think you'd bring as a head coach if that opportunity came up?
Like you prefaced it, I don't really think about it at this point because there're so many unknown things and factors. There could be a lockout and not be a season. Phil may decide to come back again. I'm sure every coach that's out there, big-name coaches and otherwise, would come running for the job. Who wouldn't want to be the head coach of the Lakers? I don't really consume my thoughts with that.
I would like to think that, if it did happen, [one of] the qualities I would bring is patience. From being around Phil and watching how he deals with the players. ... He has tenure and he has championships and experience that players respect because they know he's been there and done it more than anybody has. He's dealt with personalities, very strong personalities both in Chicago and here and been able to make it work.
I sit back and watch how he deals with [players and] how his relationships are with his players. The game I think has evolved. It's less X's and O's. I've played basketball and have been coaching basketball long enough now to understand everything that goes on on the court. What it's evolved more into now is managing different personalities and egos and all the other stuff that goes with it. When Phil played and, early on, when I played, you didn't have guys doing reality shows, guys with cellphones, pagers and tweeting and guys with their whole bodies tattooed and crazy hairstyles that are part of the game now. You didn't have so many young guys that came out of high school or one year removed from college. Now, a lot of coaching goes into being able to deal with all of those types of issues, and a lot of the spotlight is taken off the X's and O's and who can make this mix of guys work and control these personalities.
I presume it's fair to say, though, that if they approached you about the job, you'd be interested?
No question (laughs). No question about it. It would be a dream for anybody. I consider this one of the top three jobs in all of professional sports. If you're the head coach of the Lakers, it's probably the best job in basketball. If you're the manager of the New York Yankees -- or in football, arguably [it's] the coach of the Cowboys, they say that's America's team. Those three jobs are probably the most prestigious and sought-after jobs in all of sports.
When you were interviewing with Cleveland this summer, what did you get out of that process?
It was just the experience of going through the interview process, for one. I had mixed emotions about even going for the interview. ... To be an assistant coach here in L.A. with a team that's built like this team is built and the kind of success this team has -- as opposed to being a head coach for the first time in a situation like that in Cleveland. Since I went out there for the interview, I sensed LeBron wasn't coming back. I'm a California guy, born and raised in California. You go from California weather to Cleveland weather, all the stuff that's going on here and what's not going on there, and with him not coming back. ...
For the experience of it, that was one thing you take away from the interview. Also, getting an idea of what other management around the league think of you as a person, as a coach and what your reputation is as a coach. To be in the process that long to the very end, the more situations you go through like that, the more comfortable you get with it, and you know what to expect and what not to expect.
It's been reported that the possibility of LeBron James leaving Cleveland didn't trickle into their minds. Did that play a variable in any way in terms of them seeming to lack a contingency plan?
It did. They asked me a bunch of questions. It was three of the owners, the general manager and assistant GM. For the first day, my interview went from 3:30 p.m. to midnight. We took a break at 8 p.m. or 8:30 p.m. to have dinner, but we still kept talking. The interview was still going on, but we didn't finish until midnight. Then my agent flew in the next day, and we interviewed again the second day from about 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. They were grilling me, question after question and situation after situation: "What would you do in this situation if you called a play and LeBron waved you off" and all these kind of things. What I tried to explain to them was everything they were asking me and described to me, I've been through it with Kobe here in L.A. When he came up on being a free agent, when Phil's called plays and he's waved it off, I've had experience dealing with a high-level player like that. I've had experience dealing with that.
After they asked me all the questions they asked me, they finally said, "Is there anything you'd to ask us?" That's when I took the opportunity to say, "In the two days I've been here and all the questions you've been asking me, we haven't brought up the fact there's a very good possibility that LeBron will not be back. So all the discussion has been with LeBron being here. What are you all ready to do as a contingency plan if he does not return to the team?" It just got silent. I don't want to say nobody had any idea, but they didn't want to address that issue. That was a concern for me because I already had the sense he wasn't coming back.
Once they said he was doing his press conference on ESPN in Connecticut, I thought to myself, 'If he was doing it in Cleveland, and he was going to say in Cleveland that he was going to another team to play, it wouldn't go too well. If he does it in Cleveland, it means he's coming back to Cleveland. If he doesn't do it in Cleveland, it means he's going elsewhere, and he doesn't want to be there for when everything comes down.' It was a concern for me once they didn't really address what direction the team was going to go in and how the team was going to be constructed and built going forward if he didn't return.
Going back to what you described coaching the Lakers as a top-three position, what have you gotten from ... working with high-level talent like Kobe, working under Phil and being part of the championship teams that come with it ?
[It's] value that's added that some other coaches who are in different programs don't have on their résumé. You come in here every day and see all the banners. You're working with Kareem, and you see James Worthy, Magic, Kurt was here, and Jerry West and Gail Goodrich still come around. Then you have our coaching staff, Phil Jackson, Jim Cleamons and Frank Hamblen, who have multiple championships. Even our trainers, Gary Vitti and Chip Schaefer. On every level, you have guys who've won from the past, players who are still around and have a presence here, our announcers, our coaches, the players. Being in a big market in a high-profile place like Los Angeles, if you can survive here and get through all that, you can survive anywhere. If you're coming from Milwaukee and you are applying for the job here in L.A., you can coach and what have you, but you're still not accustomed to all the extracurricular stuff that's available here and goes on here. Some players come to L.A. from other teams and they get turned out by L.A. because there's so much going on, it can be overwhelming.
It's sink or swim. If you throw somebody in a river, they sink or swim. If you can swim in L.A. or somewhere like New York, you can make it anywhere. That's something that I have on my side, and being exposed to all this and being around it, I'll be able to take advantage of it.
Do you think that can offset not having had head-coaching experience?
You were the head coach for two preseason games against Golden State when Phil had the flu. What did you learn from that?
Just organization. The biggest thing is during timeouts, being efficient with the directions you want to give the guys before you go out on the floor and just being organized in telling the rest of the staff how you want things done. Our system and the way things are structured is already set in place. It wasn't that big of an adjustment for me to have to coach those two games in the preseason.
Did Phil give you any feedback?
I called him after the second game, and he said it was a game I shouldn't have put the starters back at the end ... because our bench got us into back in the game. The Warriors were beating us by about 20 and we came back. He always puts the guys who start in the game in to finish the game, so I said the same thing. It's preseason, and he said the way those starters were playing, they didn't deserve to come back in the game. I was like, "Well you can afford to lose games in the preseason because you have a million wins. This is my first opportunity. I want to win." That was it.
When you're scouting the teams, does the preparation entail following them throughout the whole season, or do you devote certain stretches to each team?
The club gets us all the DirecTV basketball package. Even on nights when we have games at home, we still have to watch one of those seven teams play to keep up with what they're doing. As the season progresses, coaches start to put in more offense. Sometimes they change their defense. Sometimes they change their personnel. You just have to stay up with all the things they're doing. That's the main thing, just staying on top of it. What you really home in and focus on is really about five games before. Phil likes us to watch the team's last five games leading into when we play them. Our reports are based on what we've done in the last five games. What makes it tough is if you have three or four in a row, you're watching this five, and you have to write the report up for this team. Then it's a back to back, and the next night you're watching another one of your games. You sometimes have so much going on, it's like you mix up the play calls. After you've been doing it for a while, and especially if the team has the same coach, you start to understand the little intricacies of their offense and tendencies and things like that and the actions the coach likes to run.
You decided to help out with scouting after you retired from playing. How did that opportunity come up?
My last two years of playing, Frank Hamblen used to always tell me, "You're going to be a coach." He used to always tell me, "You need to come in and start watching film with the coaching staff and see how we put together these scouting reports." I started to do that, and he would give me reports the coaches would have and explain to me how they were doing things. When I finished playing in 2003, I talked to Phil about staying on and coaching. He said I needed to take some time away from the guys so that they would respect me as a coach. I had just finished playing with all of them so they would just know me as a teammate with the guys on that particular team. We talked to Mitch and there was an opening in scouting in the West region, so I was doing mostly college evaluations, going to a lot of college games, tournaments and sending in evaluations on the players and who I thought was draftable and what have you.
Then as the college season ended, I would do advance scouting where I would go out and whoever we were playing in the playoffs, I would stay one playoff series ahead of who we were. So in the first round, I was scouting who we could possibly play in the second round and so on. After doing that for a year and a half, Phil came back. He said, "OK, you have enough time and distance away from the guys and the only guy on the team still was Kobe, basically. Devean George was still on the team. It was all new guys so they could respect me as a coach.
You're removed further from that with each season, but how has that dynamic evolved?
With [Fisher and Bryant], it's different because I played with them, and I think Phil understands that. When there're times where there's stuff going on with the team internally and what have you, I may still go out and have dinner or something with them. We talk as teammates, but they still respect me as a coach. The other part of it is, your mind says, "You can still play, and you still feel young." There's part of you sometimes that still wants to hang out and do some of the things they do, but then the flip side of that is, once you do that, you can't discipline them or be hard on them when you need to be hard on them. If you're hanging out with them, then they're like, "You were with me last night and you're trying to boss me around and tell me what to do." There's a line, and you have to be careful not to cross it.
Do you participate in practices, or are you removed from that as well?
I did all the way up until last year. ... We'd have a few injuries, and I'd fill in and scrimmage for them a little bit. For the next week, my knee would be swollen, and I'd be all sore. I hurt something. Jim Cleamons, [special assistant] Craig Hodges would say you have to go on and let it go. You're not a player anymore. This year, I've given it up. I actually went and saw Dr. Lombardo after the season was over and got an MRI. I never had surgery at all the whole time I played and he said I had some tears from all the wear and tear from all the years in playing and that you're going to get both of your knees scoped, especially if you want to stay active and keep playing. I just decided, I don't want to start getting surgery since I played 14-15 years and never got surgery. I'll just stop playing. So I've given it up.
Now when Frank said he saw you as someone who'd be a good coach, did he give any indication of what he saw in you?
We never really talked about it. When people ask me how did I get into coaching, I always give him credit for saying that. Every level, when I was in college and high school, my coach always said I'd be a coach one day. I never thought much about it. But Frank insisted on it when I was here and it was something he saw in me. I'd just leave it at that.
The way Mitch and Phil have described you, it's reflects how people describe Phil in having a calming presence, managing people well and not being afraid to criticize the players. What's been your approach with that?
What you see is what you get. I'm very honest. I think people respect that about me. In all the years I played, I had a relationship with [players, from] the star of the team to the 12th man on the team. When I was playing here, Mark Madsen or Slava Medvedenko, we could go out to dinner, hang out and have a good time. Mark didn't drink and didn't dance or party. No caffeine, didn't cuss or anything like that. But he still would say, "Hey do you want to see a movie?" I could go out and see a movie or I could go to the other extreme and go to a party or rap concert with Shaq and hang out. I just always was the voice of the underdog because I felt that was always me. With Shaq, there was a time we were playing San Antonio in the playoffs, and there was a game they beat us in San Antonio. After the game, Shaq was [angry] and was yelling at Devean George for a mistake he made in the game. Devean wasn't playing a whole lot then. He was a young player. And I thought the way Shaq was getting on him was unfair to Devean.
When I looked at the stat sheet and saw Malik Rose was having eight or 10 offensive rebounds and that was Shaq's man, I went over and defended Devean. Shaq and I were tight, but I went over and said, "Hey, instead of putting the blame on Devean, who only played five minutes in the game, if you would've blocked out Malik Rose, he wouldn't have gotten all those offensive rebounds. Maybe we would've won the game then." ... When I jumped in and stood up for Devean, Shaq charged me. We were wrestling around in the locker room. He skinned my knees all up, and he dragged me around, but I defended Devean because I felt that was the right thing to do.
I've never been afraid to, whether it's Kobe or Phil for that matter, if I see something that I don't think is right, I'm going to say it. You can reprimand me or what have you. But in the end, Shaq came back a couple days later. He didn't talk to me for a couple days, but he came back and was like, "My bad. You're right. I shouldn't have done that." Devean was happy I stood up for him, so I think the guys I've worked for and played with respect that about me.
This is much different team compared with the three-peat years [in 1999-2002]. But the last season of that three-peat, is there anything this current team can take away from that?
There's a natural complacency that comes in and takes place because you've been there a couple of times in a row and you naturally say, "We know what it takes, and when it's time, we'll flip the switch." As a coach, you don't want your team to do that. You want them to play at their highest level all the time. There was a similarity with that in terms of our group compared to this group. One of the areas you could contrast though was when our group lost a game, you knew we were [angry because] the next game that we played, we came out and took care of business. This team this year [has] had two different four-game losing streaks. That raises a flag with me in terms of, you'd expect for them to come out and be mad. You don't always see that with this team.
This team is a lot nicer than our team was. Pau [Gasol], as skilled as he is as a basketball player and as one of the best big men in the world, he's a nice guy. That's not to knock him. He's a nice guy. So is Andrew [Bynum]. Andrew is a nice guy. On the court, you want your biggest guys to be your nastiest guys. So that's a little bit different for us too when your toughest guys on the team play the smallest positions with Fisher, Kobe and Ron [Artest], they're guards and at small forward. They're the toughest guys on the team. Usually, your enforcers are your big guys.
So how do they go about adding more meanness to their game?
They're not going to change. Fortunately for us, they're skilled and talented enough. The other guys around them are skilled and talented enough to overcome that. The 2008 series against Boston, they just punked us. They just knocked us around, and they punked us. I think we took that experience and we grew from it. That summer, Pau went in the weight room. You can get stronger, but that's not going to change his personality. He's not going to come back and be a big nasty UFC fighter. That's not who he is. But you have to understand when you're out there between those lines on the basketball court, nobody is going to pull out a knife and stab you, and nobody is going to pull out a gun and shoot you. The worst thing that's going to happen is you may catch an elbow or you may get pushed down on the ground. If somebody goes overboard, you may get punched. But it's going to be something you can recover from, and that's part of the game. In terms of all that, trying to be a thug on the basketball court and punk people and physically manhandle them and push them around, the game of basketball if you have skills and talent, you can overcome that and get around that. That's what they're able to do.
-- Mark Medina
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Photo: Lakers assistant coach Brian Shaw acknowledged interest in succeeding Phil Jackson as Lakers Coach. Credit: Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times.
Photo: Shaw said he expected LeBron James to leave Cleveland. Credit: Hans Dery / Reuters
Photo: Lakers point guard Derek Fisher and assistant coach Brian Shaw, who took over head coaching duties with Phil Jackson ill, discuss strategy during Friday night's exhibition game against the Warriors. Credit: Mark J. Terrill / Associated Press / October 23, 2010
Photo: Brian Shaw believes the Lakers need to be more upset after losses. Credit: Barbara Davidson / Los Angeles Times
Photo: Brian Shaw played for the Lakers from 1999 - 2003, including the 2001-2002 championship team.