clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

The curious absence of Brian Shaw from the Knicks' coaching search

New, comments

Once a hot coaching prospect, Shaw seems way behind Rambis on the "Phil guy" list.

Chris Humphreys-USA TODAY Sports

As the New York Knicks' coaching search ... uhh ... continues? ... begins? .... Phil Jackson hasn't really been linked all that much to the guy he allegedly had in mind after Steve Kerr turned him down: former Lakers assistant Brian Shaw.

The former point guard and Phil Jackson assistant hasn't coached in the league since his disastrous stint in Denver ended late in the 2014-15 season. The Nuggets went 56-85 during his slightly-less-than-two-year tenure, a .397 winning percentage that is somehow still far better than Rambis's .284 lifetime mark.

The general consensus on Shaw's tenure with the Nuggets is that he was placed in an impossible situation, and made it worse. He was replacing George Karl, who had led the team to its best record in franchise history. The team had lost Andre Iguodala (trade) and Danilo Galinari (injury), and Shaw had a mandate from management to change Denver's style to a more grind-it-out, defensive-minded club. And the Ty Lawson-led Nuggets were infamous for their lack of maturity.

Still, Shaw made one disastrous decision after another. He tried too hard to relate to his players -- rapping scouting reports and doing this ...

I talked to hardcore Nuggets backer Justin Faudree (@SmoothsHoops) about Shaw's time in Denver:

What was the mood among Nuggets fans when Shaw was hired? He was coming into a pretty unique situation, replacing Karl after his Coach Of The Year season.

Many Nuggets fans were ready for change. Karl had been Denver coach for nine years. While they made the playoffs every season of his tenure, they only advanced beyond the first round once in their run to the 2009 Western Conference Finals. There was really no secret about Shaw. Many knew his old school pedigree and his vow to play inside-out, despite the roster not being built for such a style. Still, many were hopeful. Maybe he could teach the Nuggets how to play defense, something generally absent during Karl's stay? No one knew. There was hope, though.

What kind of offense did he run? Was he a big Triangle guy, or did he run more of a hybrid system?

I can't tell you what kind of offense he ran because much of his time with Denver was difficult to understand. I think the players tried running certain things but were either unable or didn't understand how because of the coaching staff's failure to communicate. There were countless Kenneth Faried post-ups, even though that was very clearly not in his or the team's best interest. It was an incredibly depressing time to be a Nuggets' fan.

Was there a watershed moment when you feel he lost the players?

I do not believe there was a specific watershed moment because I don't think Shaw ever had the players. I believe George Karl was generally well-liked in the locker room. His firing came as somewhat of a shock considering Denver just had their best season in team history and he earned Coach of the Year honors. He was the franchise's foundation. Shaw came in with a mandate to change Denver's style and very little knowledge of the roster's personality and makeup. His hiring was doomed from the start.

In your opinion, does he have any chance of learning from his Denver mistakes and growing as a coach, or is he so bad that he's beyond redemption?

I believe Brian Shaw has a very good chance of learning from his mistakes and growing. He's a very smart and genuine man. I further don't think he's bad or beyond repair. However, I do think he might be too stubborn to change. His unflinching desire to force Denver's roster to fit his philosophy is evidence of that stubbornness in action. His best chance as a coach is finding a roster to fit his philosophy. Given the entire NBA's evolution beyond that style, finding one -- let alone accomplishing any level of success with it -- could prove difficult.

Wow, does that sound like a Phil Jackson guy or what?

On the other hand, Shaw was a revelation in his two seasons as an assistant coach with the Indiana Pacers. Paul George credits Shaw's coaching as playing a big part in his development. In perhaps the highest form of respect one can show a former coach, several Pacers went off publicly after the Nuggets fired Shaw.

Yeah, even Kevin Garnett got in on the action:

I think Shaw's reputation is hurt by the embarrassing stunts he pulled, more than perhaps he deserves. He desperately tried to reach his players, and he failed miserably. That's still preferable to Kurt Rambis's aloof, "I know better than you, and I'm going to let the media know it" approach to his players, at least in my opinion. For what it's worth, he did try to change up his offensive approach in year two, and the Nuggets finished in the top 5 in pace both seasons.

Brian Shaw probably wouldn't be a candidate for any other team, but it's surprising that he hasn't been mentioned more as a coach for the Knicks. He's a Phil guy, and outside of the probably-unavailable Luke Walton, he might be the least decay-ridden branch left on the Jackson coaching tree.

Any questions on this piece? Let me know in the comments. I'll be answering them in a Facebook Live segment on P&T's Facebook page at 3:30 PM.