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Shaw experience a lesson for Nuggets

3/12/2015
Brian Shaw's tumultuous tenure is the perfect example of what not to do in Denver moving forward. Brace Hemmelgarn/USA TODAY Sports

Brian Shaw loves to tell stories.

Ask him why he didn't play Darrell Arthur more, and he might launch into a story about Phil Jackson and the Lakers.

Ask him about the development of a certain player, and he'll tell you about his time with Paul George and the Indiana Pacers.

Talk to him about his difficulties relating to his players, and he'll have a story about when he played with Larry Bird.

Every answer is an anecdote and every anecdote a reminder that Brian Shaw has experience.

That experience is what made him such an attractive hire for the Denver Nuggets in the first place. He'd learned under the Zen Master, worked with Kobe Bryant, helped develop Indiana's defense into a juggernaut and George into a star and played with some of the league's legends. That's the résumé of a head coach.

The problem is experience can take someone only so far. At some point, he has to become his own coach, not simply an amalgamation of his influences.

In Shaw's season and a half in Denver, the Nuggets were a patchwork of his previous stops. They rarely doubled in the post, a tactic Shaw brought from the Pacers. Though the roster was built to George Karl's preferences -- positionally versatile, athletic and ready to run all day -- Shaw wanted to slow things down, preferring a half-court-oriented, inside-out style to run-and-gun.

At least that's what he preferred at first. Before his first season at the helm, Shaw said he wanted to play a slower pace. Then, when that wasn't working and the players were clearly frustrated with the offense, he relented and urged his players to run.

It was almost the inverse this season. At media day, Shaw said he wanted to run more, but when the team started losing, he decided to dial down the pace, stating, in a bizarre twist, that this team wasn't built to run. Perhaps management intervened, but under Shaw, the Nuggets never settled on an identity, never truly adjusted.

Shaw also inherited Jackson's off-court tendency of calling out his players -- at times, even his whole team -- through the media. He'd constantly throw guys under the bus, even if they had a good game.

Before the season, Shaw said he thought Kenneth Faried was the MVP of Team USA during its run to the FIBA Basketball World Cup gold medal. He even compared him to Dennis Rodman. Only, after praising him, he quickly cut him down:

"I don't know if [Faried] had an understanding of the real work that Dennis put in after games, getting on the treadmill or elliptical or StairMaster [for] 45 minutes or an hour after every game, because he had to be in tip-top shape and train at the level he played," Shaw said.

This is the downside in taking a big swing. While the Nuggets reached the playoffs in all nine of Karl's seasons in Denver, they made it past the first round just once. Fifty wins and the ability to book your first-round accommodations early was indeed a treat, especially after a stretch in the '90s and early 2000s when the team was handed a lottery ticket eight years in a row. But the treadmill of moderate success can be fatiguing. Even though Denver was losing the reigning coach of the year, Shaw offered a chance for something different, something more.

But change only at the coaching level is a half-measure. If the Nuggets do indeed want a different future, they have to be willing to invest in it fully. Handing Shaw a Karl team was never going to cut it. So whether it's Alvin Gentry or Mike D'Antoni or interim coach Melvin Hunt -- himself a Karl disciple -- the next Nuggets head coach has to be on the same page as management, and together, they all need to move on from the past two vexing seasons.

As Shaw's tenure showed, you can't look to the future while still holding on to the past.

Jordan White is a writer in Denver. Follow him, @JordanSWhite.