Coaching candidate profile: Brian Shaw
Candidate: Brian Shaw
Coaching background: The Lakers had strongly encouraged Shaw to get into coaching, allowing him to join meetings during his time with the Lakers from 1999-2003 where he'd learn how the coaching staff put its scouting reports together. But instead of immediately joining the coaching ranks after retiring in 2003, Shaw told The Times in January that Lakers Coach Phil Jackson told him to spend a year scouting the team's coastal opponents. Jackson required that out of Shaw because of his concern that he remained too closely connected with the players on the current roster and they may not give him the respect he deserves.
After a year of scouting, Shaw joined the Lakers' coaching staff in 2005 as an assistant for five seasons. Part of his responsibilities in the 2010-2011 season entailed putting together game preparations for contests against the Golden State Warriors, Memphis Grizzlies, Phoenix Suns, Minnesota Timberwolves, Orlando Magic, Atlanta Hawks and Chicago Bulls where he compiled a 14-6 record.
Pros: The Lakers are inevitably going to go through a transition period without Jackson. But Shaw's presence helps minimize that because of his familiarity with both the personnel and the triangle. Those arguing that Shaw's lack of head coaching experience will hurt him should be comforted to know that doesn't really provide a definitive indicator on their success. Consider Bulls Coach Tom Thibodeau guided the Chicago Bulls to the Eastern Conference finals and won the 2011 NBA Coach of the Year in only one season after spending his 21-year coaching career as an assistant. Thunder Coach Scott Brooks had only been an assistant coach for the Sacramento Kings, Denver Nuggets and Oklahoma City before taking over the Thunder on an interim basis following P.J. Carlesimo's firing on Nov. 21, 2008. But Brooks immediately helped guide the Thunder to two consecutive playoff appearances. One only has to harken to Jackson and Pat Riley's coaching career to see that they only needed an opportunity to show their lack of head coaching experience meant nothing.
Sure, there is past history that shows Jackson's assistants haven't succeeded as head coaches. Frank Hamblen went 23-42 with the Milwaukee Bucks in the 1991-92 season as an interim coach after Del Harris stepped down, and then 10-29 with the Lakers in the 2004-05 season as an interim coach after Rudy Tomjanovich stepped down. Current Lakers assistant Jim Cleamons coached the Dallas Mavericks to a combined 28-72 record before getting fired 16 games into the 1997-98 season. And former Lakers assistant Kurt Rambis has a 32-112 record through two seasons with the Timberwolves. All of those coaches have noted that their teams didn't have as much talent as Jackson's squads and that they lacked the necessary time to teach and rebuild.
Shaw's situation would be completely different. Though he'd assume a veteran-heavy roster whose championship window will dwindle as each year passed, it's still possible for them to squeeze out a few titles. A restful offseason and motivation from the disappointment surrounding the 2011 playoffs would help push them along. But so would Shaw's presence because of his willingness to openly criticize and confront players. His critiques are never personal and rarely illustrate the mind games that Jackson often enjoyed. Instead, Shaw's shown a capability of being a straight shooter without further antagonizing a player, a quality Kobe Bryant has said on multiple occasions makes players respect him.
Cons: The Times' Mark Heisler, among others, have reported on multiple occasions that the Lakers' willingness to have Shaw interview for other coaching positions, including the Houston Rockets and Golden State Warriors, show that his chances of becoming the Lakers' head coach are decreasing. Heisler has reported that Lakers owner Jerry Buss and Jim Buss hope to bring back Showtime and scrap the triangle offense. Whether or not that concept is realistic since it would require a different roster, it would also require a new voice. If Jackson's 11 championship rings and experience weren't enough to help motivate and get the best out of the Lakers, it's surely valid to question how Shaw would be able to suddenly inspire the team. As much as the aforementioned qualities will help offset any learning curve Shaw goes through as a head coach, there are going to be instances that will test how quickly he can adjust.
For example, Shaw coached the Lakers in an exhibition and allowed the starters to return to the game despite blowing a late-game lead, a decision Jackson strongly questioned. Rotation and Xs and O's type decisions aren't as important as the big-picture preparation, but it will immediately reveal how fully capable Shaw is in being thrown into the fire. Long term, Shaw will become a great head coach after perhaps some initial growing pains. But that's a reality the Lakers have to think long and hard about considering they're not interested in rebuilding. They're interested in reloading.
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Photo: Lakers assistant coach Brian Shaw has received public endorsements from Kobe Bryant, Derek Fisher and Luke Walton to be the next Lakers' head coach. Credit: Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times.