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Scott Howard-Cooper

As the playoffs march on, the speculation about the future of Lakers assistant Brian Shaw (center) intensifies.
Fernando Medina/NBAE via Getty Images

Future for Shaw, Lakers gets clearer with each playoff game

Posted May 2 2011 9:57AM

LOS ANGELES -- He has been a head coach in waiting for years, actually. Brian Shaw was considered one of the promising bench minds while finishing his 14-year career and the way Phil Jackson long ago began to position his young assistant for a No. 1 job without many people knowing it, well before Jackson's self-titled last stand of 2010-11 had begun. It was behind the scenes, just as Shaw built critical support within the Lakers locker room over time.

Only now behind the scenes does not exist. This is the last part of the last stand as the West semifinals against the Mavericks starts tonight at Staples Center. Even assistant coaches, who are ordinarily barely in the public eye, get steady spotlight tracking when they're a potential successor for one of the most-coveted roles in any sport.

That's Shaw, try as he might to downplay the moment by saying he is only focusing on the current role and not what may come next. He is part of what has become regular conjecture about where the Lakers turn for a replacement, especially now, with the season in the final stages and Jackson regularly batting down any opportunity to say he is reconsidering.

Speculation is further magnified because of the backing Shaw will receive -- from Jackson, if asked, and from Lakers players, most importantly Kobe Bryant and Derek Fisher, who told "There isn't anybody else but Brian at this point." And now there will be the increased stature of the Rockets receiving permission to interview Shaw for the vacancy there and another opening with his hometown Warriors.

"As we've gotten closer to the playoffs, there's been more talk about it," Shaw said. "And I'm sure as more teams get eliminated and when coaches get fired and there's openings out there, the names get brought up. That's kind of the usual thing that happens. I'm accustomed to that. Other than that, it hasn't been a difficult thing.

"We have an opportunity to do something special, which is a three-peat and for Phil to possibly do it his fourth time. That's really been what the focus is -- just kind of trying to soak up everything this season and enjoy whatever this last time that we all have together as this particular group, just enjoy that."

There has, he insisted, been no signal from the Lakers about where he fits into the future. Management has given no public hints about who gets the difficult task of succeeding Jackson, which could be more difficult if it comes during a rush job of a post-lockout shortened schedule. The added consideration is that Jerry Buss has never hesitated to go with a surprise choice on the sideline.

But Shaw is obviously a strong candidate with enviable support.

From Jackson: "That's the owner's prerogative, and I decided to stay out of it. Obviously one of my coaches I'd like to see get there. That's their choice as to that part. When they ask me, I'll give them my feelings about that."

If they ask for a vote?

"If they want the continuity of this offense and everything else going forward, he's the guy that knows it and understands it," Jackson said. "That's a given, I think. If they're looking to change how this team is going and the direction and the personnel and all the other stuff that goes along with it, then they have something else in mind and I don't have anything to do with that. That's their business."

From players: "We feel comfortable that Brian could get the job done," Fisher said. "He's played with us, he's played for Phil, he's worked under Phil for a long time. We feel like if he chose to accept the job and be the head coach, we definitely could keep the same system that we have and do a lot of the same things."

From Shaw himself?

"I would expect from them when and if that time comes for them to go through go whatever process any other team would in a situation where they're replacing a coach, to interview and bring in the best possible candidates to look at them," Shaw said. "I wouldn't expect for anything to be different here. That's why I don't get caught up in all of that."

He remembers being added to Jackson's staff six seasons ago and being told almost immediately, by Jackson, that he was being groomed to be a head coach. The mentor would point out situations and explain his reasoning on decisions. Shaw listened and waited.

The wait may be over, in Los Angeles or elsewhere, and Shaw has become one of the prominent Lakers. He has become the choice from within the locker room. He has been moved out from behind the scenes.

Scott Howard-Cooper has covered the NBA since 1988. You can e-mail him here and follow him on twitter.

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