Brian Shaw needed to be let go; it had become very clear he had lost the locker room. The team is 20-39 and in a free fall. Frankly, the Nuggets should have done this sooner (or waited until the summer).
Of course, as soon as the vacancy came up a list of potential long-term successors started to float around — Mike D’Antoni, Avery Bradley, Alvin Gentry, Mike Malone, Vinny Del Negro. But before the Nuggets start interviewing candidates, they need to sit down and answer one question:
What kind of team are they trying to build?
The seeds of Brian Shaw’s disaster of a tenure were sewn as he was hired. Remember that a couple of years ago the Nuggets had just completed a 57-win season and were considered very dangerous for the playoffs until Danilo Gallinari went down just before the postseason started (the shorthanded Nuggets lost in the first round). Then came a tough summer, which started when GM Masai Ujiri left for Toronto. Coach George Karl was in the last year of his contract and rather than extend him and give him more power in the organization, team president Josh Kronkie canned Karl.
The Nuggets hired Shaw, who was one of the top assistant coaches out there at the time, and he seemed ready. Management and Shaw were on the same page about wanting better defense and maybe slowing down the tempo more — not so much running and gunning. The problem was the roster — starting with Ty Lawson at the point and moving through the entire rotation — was built for up-tempo basketball. The Nuggets didn’t go out and reshape the roster to fit Shaw’s style, so he was stuck trying to fit square pegs into round holes.
Then came a perfect storm of problems. Shaw struggled to communicate and get the players to buy into his vision. As David West noted, this was not a mature locker room Shaw was trying to reach. Shaw didn’t adapt his system. Injuries continued to be an issue, with Gallinari never being the same, JaVale McGee and others missing extended time. It all started to spiral downhill, picking up momentum as the slide got worse this season.
Shaw deserves blame here; he deserved to be let go. But the seeds of the friction that was his demise ties back to a real disconnect between the style Shaw wanted to coach — what management said it wanted — and the roster he was given.
Denver needs to figure out what kind of team it wants to be before it hires its next coach.
With much of the current roster under contract for another year, if they want to go up tempo then Alvin Gentry would be an excellent fit. Mike D’Antoni could work well (again, if you give him a roster that fits his very particular tastes).
If the Nuggets want a more defensive-oriented team, Malone would be a great call. But while he can bring discipline, there is a need for a roster overhaul to make that happen. The Nuggets have the flexibility and cap space (especially after the salary cap jumps in 2016) to make roster changes if they so choose.
The Nuggets, known for not spending on coaches and front office people like other franchise, may go with a top assistant coach and give him his first time job (Boston assistant Jay Larranaga is suggested by Ken Berger of CBSSports.com).
Whatever they do they need to think it through and get the entire organization on the same page. It sounds like they are leaning that way.