We should have known that the Brian Shaw era of Denver Nuggets basketball was going to fail spectacularly when one of the first serious names for lead assistant coach that was floated was none other than … former Nuggets General Manager/coach Bernie Bickerstaff. That showed a stunning lack of awareness of Nuggets history and cast some doubt on Shaw’s ability to choose assistants wisely.

Shaw ended up with Lester Conner as his lead assistant and what resulted was a disastrous season and three quarters. Conner was held in such low regard by Nuggets players that you could actually make an argument that the players disliked Conner more than Shaw. This lead to further dysfunction and the result was both Conner, Shaw and assistant Chris Farr were dismissed together. All three were part of Shaw’s Oakland crew, and Shaw had known them for years. Their dismissal with Shaw showed that they were part of the bigger issue. (from my observation Melvin Hunt, and Patrick Mutombo had the players respect and were listened to … not coincidentally all were part of George Karl’s staff).

Choosing assistant coaches is one the most important things a head coach can do, and it will be interesting to see who Malone chooses as his assistants for this upcoming season. One would hope that the criteria of trust and competence come together. It is a delicate balance to achieve as some coaches prefer weaker assistants over stronger ones because multiple factors, including wanting a good amount of control for themselves and job security. Others want strong assistants and the coach acts as an executive overseeing the coaches. Rather like the NFL model for coaching. There are valid reasons for both approaches.

I’m curious to see which path Malone chooses. One way I would advise is to somehow obtain a great assistant coach who can teach offense while Malone drills his “defense first” principals into the team. I am an advocate for balance in approach, and I believe that both all offense, and all defense approach to coaching will artificially cap your ceiling. You need a balance of flow and support. You need a system of defense that flows into your offense. Too many times defense only coaches tend to have a rather lazy approach to offense. Meaning that they have a “you’ll figure it out” tack that the Golden State Warriors showed is rather passe. A balanced approach to both offense and defense is needed, and if the Nuggets can hire a great offensive assistant coach, they very well may be ahead of the game.

Problem is, the Nuggets hired Malone so late in the process … will great assistant coaches be available? It will be important for Malone and Nuggets General Manager Tim Connelly to find the right blend of support, trust and basketball IQ in assistant coaches that is almost as important as the players on the roster. The roster needs to be played to the best of their abilities. Better players need to be acquired and yes, good assistants are needed to help Michael Malone as he tries to bring winning basketball back to Denver.

The coming weeks will be most interesting.