Brian Shaw is as familiar to Lakers fans as cracker jacks are to a baseball game. We all have fond memories of his clutch threes in the epic comeback against Portland, his steady veteran leadership, his defense and of course his alley-oop passes as part of the Shaw-Shaq redemption. But the question on Lakers’ fans minds now is, would he make a good head coach?
There is something to be said for continuity and the of hiring Shaw would represent the ultimate in that respect. He would almost certainly run the triangle offense and there is probably no other available candidate more qualified to do so than he. The triangle has been good to the Lakers over the years and as recently a season ago it was the system that brought them a second consecutive title. And really the truth is that with their current roster of aging players and non-athletes, it tough to foresee the Lakers changing styles of play with their current personnel. But keeping the system in tact isn’t the only reason to go with Shaw.
To a man, almost every Lakers player has, when asked, given their endorsement to Shaw as the successor to Phil Jackson. Jackson himself even gave his blessing. It’s obvious that the young assistant is incredibly well liked and respected within the organization. This speaks not only to his leadership and basketball knowledge but also the unique way he relates to the players. His is seen simultaneously both as a peer and as an authority figure, someone who can play one on one with players after practice but also lend harsh critiques on the sideline during a game. It’s not exactly out of the Phil Jackson mold, but this type of dynamic could lend itself to much better communication between players and coach. Communication will breed trust and trust might in turn make the difference between wins and losses.
Of course one of the criticisms that will be levied at Shaw throughout the hiring process is that he is not experienced enough, that he has in fact never been a head coach on any level of basketball. Yet what that statement belies is his years put in with the Lakers as an assistant and his understanding of the personalities within the locker room. There may be a learning curve when it comes to making in game adjustments or strategic choices, but from day one Shaw will have a rock solid relationship with each of the star players.
Moreover, the fact that Shaw comes fresh out of the box might be a good thing when it comes to keeping the interest and respect of his players. To some extent, each of the other top three options, Adelman, Dunleavy and Van Gundy, are all retreads. They have all been around the proverbial NBA block and although each comes with a history of some success none have a championship pedigree. If times get tough who is to say that the players won’t start tuning out what they perceive as the words of someone who has “never done it before.” The respect factor becomes a serious issue.
But Shaw? He’s one of them. He’s been to war with Kobe and Fisher, won championships with them, and it’s likely they’re willing to go to the mattresses to fight for their friend and former comrade. That fact alone warrants consideration.
There is no question that the selection of Shaw would be something of a gamble but the potential reward might just be high enough to justify the risk. It has worked before for the Lakers. Pat Riley was essentially plucked right out of the broadcast booth and went on to one of the all-time great coaching careers. If the Lakers pick Shaw, they’ll be betting that history repeats.