In the 24 hour sports media cycle we have become very much entrenched in "there is only one person to blame" aspect of analysis. If a team isn't winning it MUST be the coach. If a team is lazy is MUST be the players. No nuance, just black and white ... stark, with finger pointed rigidly in one direction.
Any criticism of Brian Shaw is immediately dismissed as "George Karl apologists". Any criticism of the players is shrouded in "but the coach can't coach". Both takes are wrong. Former Nuggets coach George Karl has nothing to do with the mistakes Brian Shaw has made, and the players are accountable for their own behavior. Everyone involved with the Nuggets organization is not immune from criticism from a year gone sideways. It's where each entity goes from here that will determine the fate of this organization.
"I told our team I wish paychecks were predicated on night-to-night performance. So if you play like a star on a given night then you get paid like a star. If you play like an uninspired player, then either you don’t get paid or you get paid like an uninspired player. And you can’t just pick and choose when you want. Last night we played Milwaukee, who is obviously down players, they have injuries, they’ve been struggling all season long and we act like the big bad wolf against Milwaukee. And then we come in tonight…and we tuck our tails and we hide basically. We don’t defend at all, from the onset of the game until the end. And thus another 30-point loss for us on the road"
Strong words, and that wasn't the only thing Shaw said. Click the hyperlink above to read the full transcript.
Essentially Shaw is ripping his team for being gutless. After their pathetic performance against the Bulls on Friday night no one could blame him for that reaction. The team seemed disinterested in competing, several players gave less that inspired efforts and the whole scene was very much reminiscent of the four game road trip before the All-Star break last week. A checked-out team that wasn't really interested in competing against the Bulls.
Effort is a choice, even on second nights of back to backs. Will, drive, effort all are elective devices and shine through in all the best players in the NBA. None of that was on display for the Nuggets. This season is going sideways for the team, but that is ZERO reason for essentially taking a game off. That speaks poorly for their character. The team needed to buy in to Brian Shaw from day one, and it seems like that hasn't happened. That part is on this team and there is simply no excuse for it. They are professionals, and it's high time they acted like it.
What of Brian Shaw though?
There was a quote from Shaw right at the start of training camp all the way back in October that bugged me. It was a throw away line in response to a question, but it showed me something far deeper than words. Shaw described a fast breaking, running, offense as "cute". Obviously it's in context of what wins in the playoffs and the idea that you need to be, primarily, a play calling half court offense to win. There's some validity to that, and some indication that the NBA has largely moved away from the old days of 90's slow it down basketball.
Outside of general philosophical words, however, the line bothered me simply because it also showed what Shaw thought of the roster last year. Shaw never seemed to "buy in" to the roster he was coaching. If I'm going to fault Shaw for anything it's that his outward regard for the roster he was coaching, from the very start, seem to be one of "I have to hold my nose". Therefore EVERYONE got off on the wrong foot.
As the Nuggets have up and downed and sludged their way through this year, things have only been more confusing. Yes, the team has been missing Danilo Gallinari all year. JaVale McGee for most of the year and most recently Ty Lawson and Nate Robinson. However, while the team was just missing Gallo and JaVale, the lineups were screwy, rotations were bizarre and arbitrary. J.J. Hickson and Kenneth Faried are still starting together when most every metric will show you they are a defensive minus. It's been strange, and it reflects what Brian Shaw thinks of the roster (remember, Nate Robinson didn't get injured until the end of January).
What seems clear is that there isn't the mutual respect between coach and players that you need to have a successful team, even WITH injuries. Just look at the Chicago Bulls who are missing Derrick Rose and traded away Luol Deng and lost Jimmy Butler to injury early in the game last night. They still cleaned the Nuggets clock. Forget talent, the coach and the team connect.
I'm starting to believe that the Nuggets players and Brian Shaw don't have that mutual respect. In the grand scheme of things you need that to have any sort of successful team. When the coach doesn't like the team, and the team doesn't like the coach ... you have problems.
Brian Shaw will be here next season. How many players will though? It makes you wonder what kind of roster overhaul we will see heading into next year. My friend Matt Moore of CBS Sports said after he saw Shaw's quotes last night:
Brian Shaw hates this roster and this roster seems to hate him.— Hardwood Paroxysm (@HPbasketball) February 22, 2014
Looks like this team may be heading for a breakup. That's not necessarily a bad thing.