LAS VEGAS – Strolling past an interview being conducted with Lakers assistant coach Brian Shaw, head coach Luke Walton would not bite his tongue. Would not let it go. Would not stay silent.
“Why don’t you tell the real story about Brian,” Walton said.
“Tell what really happened with Oakland’s own,” he added.
What really happened to Shaw over the past five years is a tale of a man being unceremoniously dismissed by the organization for which he shed blood, after which he was compelled to work for another under less than ideal circumstances.
He was a Laker as a player and as an assistant coach. He was lined up to become head coach. Yet Shaw somehow found himself in Denver, coaching a team with a plethora of issues under an ownership with a reputation for getting in its own way.
And now, 19 months later, Shaw, a graduate of Bishop O’Dowd High in East Oakland and still a resident of the city, has reunited with the Lakers, where as associate head coach he sits on the bench next to Walton.
“I felt like I needed Brian,” Walton said Saturday, after Lakers shootaround at T-Mobile Arena. “He’s a phenomenal coach in this league. I played for him. I knew what he was like to play for him. He’s had success everywhere he’s gone – except for Denver.
“I feel like he got a real raw deal in Denver, especially in hindsight now, looking back at what he had and what he was dealing with out there.”
The Nuggets were a mess entering the 2013-14 season. Star forward Andre Iguodala wanted out, and had bolted for the Warriors. Star forward Kenneth Faried earned a big contract and became a less impactful player. Guard Ty Lawson, the floor leader, had legal issues and was chronically clashing with Shaw and his assistants.
A job that was, at best, only modestly attractive – several folks around the league cautioned Shaw – became downright hazardous. Shaw’s blood pressure and the losses on his coaching ledger were rising at the same warp speed.
Why take the job in the first place? Well, despite – and because of – his connection with the legendary coach Phil Jackson, the Lakers bypassed him to hire Mike Brown in 2011. Shaw could have more easily digested this if new owner Jim Buss, who had taken over for his ultra-successful father, Dr. Jerry Buss, had made courtesy phone call to deliver the news.
Shaw left for two seasons as an assistant in Indiana. And when the Nuggets were seeking a coach in June 2013, Shaw jumped.
“That was my 12th head coaching interview,” Shaw said. “And every time I went on an interview, they would say they’d like to hire someone with head coaching experience. So I had to get some head-coaching experience somewhere.”
Going to Denver, where Shaw never wanted to be, nearly derailed his coaching career. He was 56-85 with the Nuggets before he was fired with six weeks left in the 2014-15 season. After spending last season visiting NBA teams and doing TV analysis for NBA-TV, he took a call from Walton and contemplated returning to LA.
Jim Buss was still in the big chair. Mitch Kupchak, one of the few holdovers, was still the general manager. Why would Shaw go back to the organization that treated him so shabbily?
There was the influence of Walton, who played under the Jackson-Shaw staff, and made a convincing pitch. There was the need to patch things with Buss and Kupchak, which was done with frank, and sometimes vociferous, discussion.
There also was this: Shaw never wanted to leave the Lakers. But when Jim Buss took over, he made the decision to purge many longtime employees, including Shaw, who after spent four seasons as a player and six more as an assistant under Jackson.
Though Shaw concedes to a fondness for the Warriors – he spent half a season with the team in 1997-98 and once acknowledged that he’d love to some day become the GM of his hometown team – his greatest NBA days have come with the Lakers, where he won three championship rings as a player and two more as an assistant coach.
“I don’t look at this as a second chance,” he said. “I made the choice to come here and do this. I have a great relationship with Luke. So I’m good. I’m content with where I am and what I’m doing now. My wife says she doesn’t care if I’m never a head coach again.
“But if I got the opportunity again, now I don’t have to take it if it’s not the right situation.”