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Cal Men’s Basketball: Bay Area Return in the Cards for Brian Shaw?

Lakers associate head coach Brian Shaw is a surprise candidate linked with becoming head coach at Cal.

NBA: Los Angeles Lakers at Sacramento Kings Ed Szczepanski-USA TODAY Sports

Brian Shaw becoming Cal head coach would be a bit of a homecoming of sorts if it happened. While he didn’t attend Cal, Shaw grew up in Oakland and went to high school at Bishop O’Dowd. He then spent a few years playing at St. Mary’s in college (1983-85) before transferring to UC Santa Barbara (86-88).

Shaw is most well-known for being a player for the Los Angeles Lakers from 1999-03, but his playing career spanned from 1988-03. When he retired as a player he became a local scout for the Lakers organization and was named an assistant coach a year later.

It seemed from the moment he became an assistant coach for the Lakers that Shaw was being groomed to replace Phil Jackson once he retired.

Here’s a snippet from an OC Register article on Shaw:

It was the summer of 2011, Phil Jackson had retired and advised the Lakers that Shaw, after six years as a trusted assistant, was ready to replace him as head coach. Players such as Kobe Bryant, Derek Fisher and Luke Walton lobbied publicly for Shaw to get the job.

“He was great with us the years that he was the assistant,” Walton said Thursday, “and I think a lot of the players would have voted that he stepped in when Phil left.”

While watching a playoff game on television that spring, Shaw saw the report. The Lakers had hired Mike Brown instead.

“I felt like I had done everything that was asked of me, went above and beyond,” Shaw said. “Worked my way up from player. I scouted, assistant coach, and had a good rapport with players. And at the end of the day it didn’t work out.”

Shaw left the Lakers to join the Indiana Pacers as associate head coach, and it seems that during his time there he had quite the impact on Pacers superstar Paul George.

Here is another excerpt from a different OC Register story:

Paul George drove hard to the basket only to find Serge Ibaka there to deny him at the rim.

While he was frustrated with a scoring opportunity missed, George turned to the sideline to see Brian Shaw’s pleased reaction. After pleading with George for two years to attack the basket, Shaw saw George being rejected as an indication of increased assertiveness. The incident also was one of Shaw’s “I told you so moments” with George during his two-year stint as Indiana’s associate coach (2011-13).

“He was tough. That’s what I enjoyed most about him,” George said before the Lakers’ 115-108 loss to the Indiana Pacers on Tuesday at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. “One thing I love is people that don’t bite their tongue. That’s definitely B. Shaw.”


Perhaps credit Shaw for George posting a team-high 30 points on 8-for-16 shooting. The Lakers did not make Shaw available for comment, but George largely credited his influence for shaping the former Knight High of Palmdale product into a three-time NBA All-Star.

George considered Shaw “a direct line” to former Lakers star Kobe Bryant after playing together from 1999-2003. Shaw told George countless stories about Bryant’s habits, including his 5 a.m. workouts and how he challenged teammates.

“It changed the way I prepared,” George said. “It was all the characteristics that made Kobe great. I was just a sponge.”

Shaw’s reputation grew larger within league circles during his time in Indiana, but Shaw still found it difficult to break through in the interview process, which made it easier for Shaw to accept a position as head coach of the Denver Nuggets once he was finally offered.

The Nuggets job was riddled with issues Shaw could not overcome. He was dismissed during his second season after compiling a record of 56-85.

So, what went wrong in Denver? What made it such a bad job for Shaw to accept as his first head coaching gig?

Here’s some inside info from CSN Bay Area:

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.”

That same story goes on to say “Going to Denver, where Shaw never wanted to be, nearly derailed his career.” From what I can gather, he’s always wanted to be a Laker. He ended his playing career there. He started his second career there as a scout and worked his way up to assistant coach, and potential heir-apparent to Phil Jackson. Plus, he’s happy now in his second stint as assistant coach to Luke Walton with the Lakers.

Here’s a quote from Shaw from the CSN article:

“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.”

Well, we know if he ends up becoming Cal head coach that it’ll be because he feels it is the right situation, but I’m not sure it is. And that is mostly to due with this nugget of information from one of the OC Register stories.

The Lakers are on their fourth head coach since Shaw was passed over. He spent two seasons in Indiana as Frank Vogel’s lead assistant. In 2013, after his 12th interview for a head coaching job, Shaw was hired to lead the Denver Nuggets.

The fit was ill-fated.

Working in the age of social media and what he describes as a generation of players who “want the reward before they put in the work,” Shaw struggled to connect with the players on his roster.

If the “age of social media” was a problem on a roster that featured few rookies, the youngest player was Evan Fournier, a French-born player who did not attend college in the U.S., then how would he manage to fit in with kids recruited to Cal fresh out of high school?

In defense of Shaw, that Nuggets team was not good. The only players still on Denver now that were on the team during Shaw’s first season are Darrell Arthur, Kenneth Faried and Wilson Chandler. It might not have worked out for any other first-time head coach either.

Another potential issue with Shaw: can he recruit? Does he want to recruit? Would a head coaching gig in college just be an advertisement for NBA teams to show them what he can do?

As someone from Oakland he could probably relate to local kids on that level, but I think he would need some good recruiters on his staff. He would probably have sway in the Los Angeles area, too, considering the time he spent there as a player and now as an assistant coach.

As with anything, there are positives and negatives. Could Shaw do the job as Cal head coach? Sure. Does that mean he’s the right fit? I’m not sure.

He isn’t my preferred candidate, for what that’s worth (admittedly, not that much).

What do you guys think about Shaw as a potential fit as Cal head coach?