Brian Shaw is currently an “associate head coach” with the Indiana Pacers, a title that may mean internally that he’s second in command, but has no league-wide significance beyond that.
He’s an assistant coach to everyone else, and though he’s had plenty of interviews with teams for a head coaching spot — nine of them, to be exact — he’s no closer now than he was when he was winning championships as a member of Phil Jackson’s coaching staff with the Lakers.
That Lakers connection is an important one, as it may be part of the reason why Shaw has yet to get his shot. The fact that he believes so strongly in the Triangle Offense that Jackson ran in both Chicago and Los Angeles could be what has kept other teams from pulling the trigger on Shaw thus far.
Shaw’s calling card is that he learned the Triangle under Phil Jackson, he of the 11 championship rings. Shaw helped win three of those rings as a player and two as an assistant coach. Several teams who have interviewed him say the Triangle is the offense he has proposed. The consensus around the league is that Shaw is the NBA equivalent of a great Concorde pilot: his resumè says he’s good at flying something no one believes can get off the ground.
As one of the GMs who has interviewed him explained: “The Triangle has never worked for anyone, anywhere, other than Phil, and that was only when he had Michael Jordan or Kobe Bryant. Let’s face it, how many of his assistants have gone on to be successful head coaches? Whether it’s fair or not, the perception is that it was all Phil and the Lakers’ ability to get whatever they needed. Another part is that the Lakers didn’t hire Shaw when they had the chance. If they didn’t think he could make it work for them, with all of their resources, can you really go to your owner with a convincing argument as to why he’s going to make it work for your team?”
All good points, and all legitimate concerns.
The Triangle Offense isn’t an easy one to implement, nor is it an easy one to teach to a team without the proper pieces to run it successfully. Jackson had the offense’s architect, Tex Winter, as a member of his staff throughout, along with assistants Frank Hamblen and Jim Cleamons who were familiar with it inside and out and able to teach and run it seamlessly.
Kurt Rambis tried to bring it with him to a rebuilding Minnesota team, and failed miserably doing so, getting fired after compiling a brutal record of 32-132 in his two seasons there.
Shaw will get more opportunities to interview. If he’s serious about becoming a head coach in this league, he should heed the implicit advice he’s received to this point during his travels, and find a way to sell his leadership skills and personal philosophy for success, while distancing himself from the Triangle Offense at the same time, despite where his experience with it has taken him.