The coming week is a big one for the NBA coaching market. Phil Jackson is due to notify the Lakers by Friday whether he's interested in returning for a threepeat run. That will set in motion hiring decisions not only by the Lakers but also the Cleveland Cavaliers. The Cavs' first choice for their vacancy is reportedly Byron Scott. According to the Cleveland Plain-Dealer, however, Scott has put the Cavs on hold while he waits on Phil's decision. But Byron isn't assured of getting the Laker job even if it opens up, because the team is also looking at Brian Shaw, who by the way is interviewing with the Cavs this week. Someone chart this out in PowerPoint so I can keep it straight.
Essentially, it seems, if Phil steps down, the Lakers will choose between Scott and Shaw, and Cleveland will probably end up with whomever's left over. We'll have more thoughts on Scott in the coming days. For now, I want to focus on his competition. We know him well here at Silver Screen and Roll. Even before he become the trendy head-coach candidate du jour, we spotted his great talent and never-before-revealed influence in human history. We knew he was a force to be reckoned with when Sasha Vujacic attempted to tussle with him, only to find his ass nailed to the bench for a few games back in March.
That's right, friends. It's time to talk about the man, the myth, the one and only Brian Shaw.
First, a review of the basics. Shaw is 44 years old and has been assistant coach for the Lakers for six seasons. He's from Oakland originally, played college ball at St. Mary's and UCSB and was drafted into the league by the Celtics in 1989. In a 14-year professional playing career, he suited up for seven NBA teams and one Italian team. He once set a league record by draining 10 three-pointers in a single game, an unlikely achievement for someone who made barely 30% of threes in his career.
Shaw has emerged as a trendy head-coaching candidate for the same reason anyone ever does: he's closely associated with a successful franchise. The Lakers have won two straight titles with him at Phil's side, so teams are understandably hoping that if they hire him, they'll be importing some of that championship mojo. That he isn't known as an X's and O's magician like John Kuester or Tom Thibodeau hasn't dimmed his appeal.
Would Shaw be a good choice to replace Phil in the cab of the Laker 18-wheeler? The more I've thought about this question, the more I've warmed up to the idea. There are two criteria that should figure most prominently into the choice of a new Laker coach. One is systems continuity: the Lakers have won back-to-back titles running the Triangle offense and the strong-side trap on defense, so you want someone who knows that playbook and will continue to run it. Hiring someone wed to their own pet systems (think John Calipari and his dribble-drive attack) not only isn't necessary, but would be affirmatively harmful. Anyone in the mood for another year of Ron Artest trying to figure out where he's supposed to be on the floor?
On this point, Shaw fits the bill. He's studied at Phil's feet for years, both as a player and as an assistant. There aren't many people in the world who know the Laker playbook as well as he does. He won't feel the need to implement something new just to prove how brilliant he is.
The second job requirement for a prospective Laker coach should be an ability to manage the complex assortment of personalities in the Laker locker room. Aside from Derek Fisher, every core member of the rotation needs to be handled delicately at times. The head coach, whoever he is, will have to persuade Kobe Bryant to throttle back his shooting occasionally, or maybe rest an injured limb for his and the team's long-term benefit. The coach may need to make sure Pau Gasol is still feeling loved in those moments when the guards are forgetting to feed him the ball. The coach will need to light a fire under Andrew Bynum and Lamar Odom. He'll need to handle the next bout of Artest craziness, whatever form it might take. Derrick Caracter, if he makes the team, will present his own set of challenges.
Let's just concede that no one is as well suited to this role as Phil Jackson. Phil has the rings, he has the authority, he has the experience with all of these players (save Caracter), and he has the even-keeled, "What, me worry?" temperament. That's why his potential retirement is such a big deal. Presiding over the Laker locker room is a high-stakes, high-degree-of-difficulty undertaking, and if Phil retires to the wilds of Montana, whoever's next in line won't be as good at the job.
If you're looking for someone who commands the same respect in coaching circles, you're down to a really short list. There's Gregg Popovich, there's Mike Krzyzewski, and that's about it. I'm guessing neither of those guys is available, but hey, if the Lakers are interested in either one, they should make the call. The worst thing that happens is they say no.
Assuming Pop and Coach K aren't on the market? Shaw offers some advantages. Foremost among them is that he knows all the personalities (again, save the rooks). Perhaps he doesn't speak from Mount Olympus like Phil does, but he has relationships with all the key players. He knows how they interact with each other and how they react to instruction. He knows which buttons to push and which to avoid. An outsider such as Byron Scott would be learning all this on the fly, and there's no guarantee that significant interpersonal conflicts wouldn't arise.
The major drawback to putting Shaw in charge is that he's never been the top guy. Head coach of a two-time defending champion isn't an ideal entry-level position. Relative to working as an assistant, the step-up in pressure and scrutiny is enormous. So far, Shaw has always had Phil looking out for him. Note, for instance, how Sasha didn't make amends to Shaw on his own initiative back in March. He was brought to heel only when Phil stuck him on the bench and made clear that he wouldn't be back in action unless and until Sasha showed the appropriate level of remorse. Can Shaw fill the same disciplinarian role convincingly without Phil there to back him up?
I don't know. It's an uncertainty, but there will be uncertainties with whomever the Lakers hire, should a new hire become necessary. At this point in Laker history, it seems that continuity is the most important consideration. Shaw knows the Laker system and he knows the Laker personnel. Byron Scott only knows of those things, which makes Shaw the better choice.
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