Poll results show Laker fans prefer Brian Shaw as next coach
Eventually, Hamblen carried the compliment even further, instructing Shaw to join the Lakers' coaching staff during game-planning meetings to familiarize himself with scouting reports during the 2001-2002 and 2002-2003 seasons. Those meetings served as the first mark of a linear and progressing path to where eight years later, Shaw is among the candidates to succeed Phil Jackson as the Lakers coach.
It's uncertain whether he will land that spot. The Times' Broderick Turner reported Shaw will interview for the Golden State Warriors' vacant head coaching position, The Times' Mark Heisler reported via Twitter that the Lakers are also considering former Lakers and Clippers Coach Mike Dunleavy, and ESPN.com's Marc Stein and ESPN Los Angeles' Dave McMenamin reported the Lakers are "very interested" in possibly hiring former Rockets Coach Rick Adelman. Various reports indicate that the Lakers' four-game sweep in the 2011 Western Conference semifinals also hurt Shaw's chances for the simple fact it gives the Lakers' front office more reason to start from scratch and possibly abandon the triangle offense.
But based on the results of an online poll on The Times' Lakers blog, the plurality of voters would prefer Shaw become the Lakers' head coach. Kobe Bryant, Derek Fisher and Luke Walton also publicly vouched for Shaw during their exit interviews.
"Familiarity," Bryant summed up. "He’s very familiar with all of us and how we like to be coached. He communicates very well. One thing about Brian is he shoots from the hip. He tells you what he expects from you. He’s very clear with you on what your role is on the team. I think that helps him."
Whether that helps him enough to get the Lakers' coaching job remains to be seen, especially because he lacks head-coaching experience. But in a sitdown interview with The Times' Lakers blog that was published in early February, Shaw provided countless anecdotes about how he can help offset that lack of experience with the foundation he's set as the Lakers' assistant head coach under Jackson for the past six seasons.
Shaw demonstrated his willingness to confront egos as he saw fit, both in his playing career, when he confronted Shaquille O'Neal for picking on Devean George and questioned Kobe Bryant's shot selection, and as an assistant, when he called for Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum to play more aggressively and disagreed with Jackson in coaches' meetings. The way Shaw delivered these anecdotes came in a matter-of-fact tone, illustrating these interactions weren't personally driven and that he didn't see them as that big of a deal.
But for a team that boasts a veteran-heavy roster with plenty of talent and egos, it's telling that the players still respect Shaw and endorse him despite his lack of experience as a head coach.
"I support Brian 100%," Fisher said. "It's not my decision to make. If I'm asked for my opinion, I would say I'm comfortable and confident in our ability to help us win. Brian is a winner. He's played as a winner, coached as a winner. That's what he'd bring to the table. Those are more difficult decisions than what I get paid to consider. Those are for Mitch [Kupchak] and Dr. Buss. I'm definitely hopeful Brian will get the opportunity and for whatever reason, if it's not here, that he'll get the opportunity to show people what he's capable of on the sidelines."
So far he's recorded a 14-6 record when he was responsible for producing the scouting report on opponents, including the Golden State Warriors, Memphis Grizzlies, Phoenix Suns, Minnesota Timberwolves, Orlando Magic, Atlanta Hawks and Chicago Bulls. He's maintained a similar demeanor to Jackson's by exhibiting patience and showing no constraint in confronting players in an even-keeled tone. And he's familiar reinforcing the concepts involving the triangle offense, leading Walton to argue, "If we coach the triangle, I don't see how we go anywhere but Coach Shaw."
But that remains unclear. Kupchak said he hasn't met with Lakers owner Jerry Buss and executive Jim Buss, both of whom in the past have wanted to return to Showtime, emphasizing a fast-paced style that's predicated on having an athletic, quick and young roster. It's unclear whether they'll embrace that level of thinking when the three meet in a "couple of weeks," as Kupchak put it, but the system they want in place will significantly affect their coaching search and how to construct the roster to fit those needs.
Even if Shaw is granted the opportunity, past history shows that Jackson's assistants haven't succeeded as head coaches. 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 compiled a 32-112 record through two seasons with the Timberwolves.
All of those coaches 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 would assume a team under better circumstances with increased talent, presumed continuity and a roster that supports him as the next coach. Whether or not management thinks the same way, Shaw professes he'll be ready.
"If you throw somebody in a river, they sink or swim," Shaw said. "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."
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Top photo: Lakers assistant coach Brian Shaw has acknowledged interest in succeeding Phil Jackson. Credit: Barbara Davidson / Los Angeles Times.
Bottom photo: 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.