The Denver Nuggets fired head coach Brian Shaw on Tuesday, just one week after general manager Tim Connelly gave him a vote of confidence. Denver, however, had lost 19 of its previous 21 games under Shaw to fall to 20-39.
There are reports that Shaw, 48, simply did not connect with players. That may be true, but that doesn’t tell the whole story.
“First of all, they had a lot of challenges,” Bleacher Report NBA insider Ric Bucher said on CBS Sports Radio’s After Hours with Amy Lawrence. “Keep in mind you’re going from a coach like George Karl, who has been doing it for a long time and has a real knack for putting guys in their sweet spot. This is the first go-around for Brian.”
Shaw was an assistant in Los Angeles from 2005 to 2011. He won three NBA titles with the Lakers as a player and helped them to two more as an assistant under Phil Jackson. Shaw was also an assistant in Indiana before becoming Denver’s head coach in 2013.
“Look, I like B-Shaw personally,” Bucher said. “I always admired his playing. But it’s troubling all the things that I heard about when he would go into the interview process. In a lot of situations, he was the favorite going in and would end up not getting the job because there was just a question of how much attention to detail there was and how much was he living off of the ‘I’m going to teach the Phil Jackson principles of success’ (mindset). As we’ve seen, not a whole lot of people have been able to duplicate that.
“So, he had a tough act to follow, and they had a number of injuries, so it was a combination,” Bucher continued. “He was sort of the last hire, the last stop on the block as far as hiring first-year coaches, and he was put in a difficult situation. (If you want to say) it was a situation where he was doomed to fail in, I wouldn’t argue with that. But I do question just how ready-made Brian Shaw is at this point to be a head coach in the NBA.”
Melvin Hunt, one of Shaw’s assistants, served as interim coach Tuesday. Danilo Gallinari scored a season-high 26 points, as Denver beat Milwaukee at home, 106-95.
Bucher believes Denver will stick with Hunt for the rest of the season and find a replacement in the offseason.
“They’re sort of in transition, and they made a decision,” Bucher said. “They have a lot of money on their books. They got off of some of it with being able to deal Javale McGee. They knew they had to move Arron Afflalo. So they made a couple of moves. They’re trying to get their books right.”
They’re also trying to get their roster right. The Nuggets have advanced past the first round of the playoffs just once since 1993-94. They made the playoffs 10 straight years from 2003-04 to 2012-13, making it to the conference finals in 2008-09.
Every other year? One-and-done.
The Nuggets will miss the playoffs this year for the second straight season.
“For the last couple years, they’ve been a good team but not a great team,” Bucher said. “Right on that cusp of a playoff team but really not built to move forward in any significant way. And now they’re having to hit the reset button. It’ll be interesting to see which direction they go in the offseason, whether they decide to year it down further or (whether) they feel as if they owe something to Ty Lawson and Wilson Chandler and need to go out and get some pieces.
“But moving (Timofey) Mozgof, moving JaVale McGee, moving Arron Afflalo – right now, it looks like they’re in tear-down mode,” Bucher continued. “And we even heard Ty Lawson’s name thrown around in trade talks at the trade deadline. So my sense is that they are going to strip it down to the studs and move it in another direction. I would imagine that’s the direction you go – because it’s not as if you have a team right now that’s on the cusp of winning anything.”