Cavaliers interview Brian Shaw: A candidate profile.

June 28th, 2010 by John Krolik

The Cavaliers find themselves in a very interesting position regarding their coaching vacancy these days. After Izzo decided to remain at Michigan State, Byron Scott and Brian Shaw surfaced as the top two candidates. However, both Scott and Shaw have been rumored as top candidates for head coach in Los Angeles should Phil Jackson decide to retire this off-season. Theoretically, should Phil Jackson decide to step down, with both Scott and Shaw at the forefront of each team’s coaching search, the Cavs won’t strike out since they are left with one of the two options.

Additionally, with Byron Scott apparently interested in the Cleveland job regardless of what Phil or LeBron do, one can only assume that Shaw will mark the end of the Cavaliers’ coaching search. After tomorrow, Shaw’s second interview in as many days, it’s likely that the Cavs will offer jobs to either Scott, Shaw, or both, as it is rumored that the team is interested in introducing a new coach by Thursday. Therefore, with Brian Shaw surfacing as a serious candidate for the vacancy, here is another coaching candidate profile courtesy of Cavs: The Blog.

The Goods.

No cute Italian themed trio this time. Instead, here is a simplistic look at what Brian Shaw would bring to the table.

First, Shaw has the potential to successfully play what I believe is the most important role of any NBA coach–ego manager. Two weeks ago I claimed that “Phil Jackson may be the best example of successful ego management in NBA history.” If Phil Jackson is unattainable, then Brian Shaw, who coached under Jackson for the past six years after playing for him for four seasons, would be a terrific second option in that regard.

A blogger known as DexterFishmore recently wrote a post highlighting how Shaw would fill in as the Lakers’ head coach. He claims that the potential new coach in L.A. should have the “ability to manage the complex assortment of personalities in the Laker locker room,” like Jackson does. In this area, he feels Shaw “knows which buttons to push and which to avoid.” While he is referring specifically to the personalities of the Lakers, I believe Shaw has a Jackson-like knack for dealing with a player’s ego, a knack he most likely developed by being around Jackson for a decade.

Brian Shaw's ability to walk the line and "push the right buttons" provides Cleveland with a great foundation for re-signing LeBron James.

LeBron has never been described as “uncoachable,” but there is no denying the ego he brings to the table. Additionally, in the past there were parts of crucial games where you could tell that LeBron wasn’t buying whatever Mike Brown was selling and seemingly drowned him out altogether. There’s no way to tell for sure short of hiring him, but I would bet that this wouldn’t happen with Shaw.

In fact, there have been reports that suggest LeBron is interested in playing for a coach that used to play in the league, with the belief that he would respect someone more if they have been in his shoes. This train of thought also helps to explain the void that sometimes arose between him and Brown in games. Additionally, a rumor back in May went as far as to suggest that Shaw was being pitched around the league because LeBron was “intrigued by the triangle offense.”

Bringing in Brian Shaw as head coach of the Cleveland Cavaliers is a big move in and of itself due to the fact he’ll command respect. Back in 2007 Shaquille O’Neal, who may or may not be back with the team next season, said he respected Shaw more than any other teammate in his career (sorry for the wikipedia link, but the original Miami Herald link is no longer active). More recently, Shaq has shown his support for Shaw as a coaching candidate in Cleveland with some of his tweets.

Ultimately, regardless of whether or not Shaq is in town next season, there is little doubt that Brian Shaw would command respect should he be the head coach of the Cleveland Cavaliers. That and his training in ego management under Phil Jackson makes him an attractive coaching candidate.

The Unknown.

As I mentioned earlier, LeBron believes that the triangle offense is one of the things that Brian Shaw can bring to the table. After studying the offense for the past six years under Jackson and experiencing it as a player in four seasons before that, Shaw reportedly has a great understanding of the offensive system.

However, there is no guarantee that the triangle offense would work in Cleveland. Furthermore, many experts believe that the triangle offense would take at least two seasons before it was fully implemented with a new team. Unfortunately, for the Cavaliers and LeBron James, this could be too long of a wait to experience offensive success.

Additionally, while Shaw has the reputation of a respected ego manager, he’s not the most savvy offensive coach. Dexter from Silver Screen and Roll explains that “he isn’t known as an X’s and O’s magician like John Kuester or Tom Thibodeau,” although that doesn’t make him any less appealing in Dexter’s mind.

On the other end of the ball, there are questions about how Shaw would restore the once powerful Cavaliers’ defense. I mentioned before that after allowing only 88.9 points per game in Mike Brown’s first three postseasons (2006-08), the team outgrew its elite defensive reputation, allowing 93.4 points per game in the last two playoffs. Could Brian Shaw come in and implement a strong defensive system built on player accountability?

In the six seasons that Shaw studied under Phil Jackson, the Lakers’ defense never ranked better than 9th in opponent points per game, which was just this past season. Granted, this cannot be attributed solely to Shaw, as he was only an assistant, but the fact that Los Angeles ranked behind Cleveland’s defense all six years doesn’t provide much hope that he could restore what was once a defense to be reckoned with.

In the end, however, Brian Shaw’s reputation and respected stature may be exactly what this Cavaliers team needs to whip them back into superior defensive shape.

The Potential Downfalls.

A big concern with Brian Shaw is the fact that he has never been a head coach on any level. It’s very easy for a coach to have a strong reputation for commanding respect and preaching accountability as an assistant, but that could mean next to nothing when he’s the main guy in charge. After all, Mike Brown was a highly touted assistant coach and, while he enjoyed success with the Cavaliers, he was never able to push his team to the next level or completely control the situation, often deferring to assistants in crucial breaks of the game. While rookie head coaches often go to much worse situations than the Cleveland Cavaliers (assuming LeBron James is re-signed), having to wait while a guy like Shaw learns the ropes as a head coach does present a substantial risk.

Taking the time to teach the Cavaliers the triangle offense could be a waste of a season or two, even if it is what LeBron James wants out of his next coach.

Also, not to beat a dead horse, but the implementation of the triangle offense may not be what’s best for the Cavaliers, even if it is what intrigues LeBron James. Aside from taking significant time to learn the system and terminology of the offense, it’s not known as a superior system that works everywhere. Blogger Michael Young explains that “the triangle should not be a factor regarding whether Brian Shaw should get the job. It’s not like it is the best offensive system in league and there is reason why only Phil Jackson’s teams have been successful with it.”

Additionally, Dexter adds that “the Lakers have won back-to-back titles running the Triangle offense and the strong-side trap on defense, so you want someone who knows that playbook and will continue to run it,” when considering Shaw as a Phil Jackson replacement. This makes perfect sense for the Lakers, but having the Cavaliers switch to the triangle offense could be just as confusing of a concept as weaning Los Angeles off of it. Ultimately, there is no doubt that Cleveland’s offense needs to change from the stagnant LeBron James-based isolation that it has reverted to over the years, but I’m not so sure that Shaw’s version of the triangle offense is the direction they should take.

In the end, Brian Shaw seems like a very solid candidate for the Cavaliers’ head coaching job. Additionally, the fact that the team has set what appears to be a Thursday deadline for the coaching position and has pitted Shaw against Scott, Cleveland looks to be in a position to force a decision out of him by the end of June. It’s looking more and more like whoever doesn’t wait for the Los Angeles job gets the Cavaliers’ position thrown at them.

Whether it’s Scott or Shaw, both look like good candidates. Well, at least good enough to be seriously considered as the next head coach of the back-to-back NBA champions.

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