Nuggets president Josh Kroenke says coach Brian Shaw was long-term hire

by Aaron Lopez

In his first eight years as an assistant coach, Brian Shaw interviewed for roughly a dozen NBA head-coaching positions. Each time, he watched as someone else was hired for each job.

That changed last summer when the Denver Nuggets gave him his first opportunity to lead a locker room. Given that Shaw is a big believer in loyalty, Nuggets president Josh Kroenke does not expect Denver’s leap of faith to result in Shaw jumping to another team anytime soon.

“We’re happy with him as our coach,” Kroenke said during an extended interview Friday. “We want him to be here and he wants to be here. We didn’t hire Brian Shaw for a one-year project.”

With the New York Knicks trying to fill their coaching vacancy, Shaw’s name has frequently been mentioned because of his connection with Knicks president Phil Jackson. Shaw played for Jackson for four seasons with the Los Angeles Lakers and served as his assistant coach in L.A. from 2005 to 2011.

Kroenke said the Knicks have not asked permission to speak with Shaw, and Shaw has given no indication that he would want to leave Denver.

“It was always the plan to hire Brian for several years,” Kroenke said. “We’re excited to see what he can do with a healthy roster next season.”

Handcuffed by significant injuries to several rotation players last season, the Nuggets went 36-46 in their first season under Shaw.

“He did a fantastic job considering the circumstances,” Kroenke said. “You have to play the cards that you’re dealt, and Brian wasn’t dealt a full deck.”

Nuggets forward Danilo Gallinari missed the entire season while recovering from knee surgery. Center JaVale McGee was limited to five games because of a stress fracture in his left tibia. Guard Nate Robinson tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee on Jan. 29, and forward J.J. Hickson tore his right ACL on March 21.

In addition, starting point guard Ty Lawson and forwards Wilson Chandler and Darrell Arthur all missed at least 13 games due to injury. It got so bad that Kroenke’s 6-year-old English bulldog Fletch tore his ACL during the season.

“If the injury bug extends all the way to your dog, you’ve got problems,” Kroenke said with a smile.

Despite dressing only nine players for several games in March and April, the Nuggets pulled off late-season victories against Golden State, Houston, Miami and the Los Angeles Clippers.

“I was incredibly proud of the way our team responded to Brian and his coaching style, especially late in the year after the All-Star break,” Kroenke said. “What you saw was a team that was playing with a lot of pride even though they were mathematically eliminated from the playoffs.

“That’s a testament to Brian. A lot of teams with lesser character would have thrown in the towel. Our guys fought and battled all the way to the end.”

Echoing the sentiments of general manger/executive vice president of basketball operations Tim Connelly, Kroenke said the Nuggets plan to be aggressive this offseason as they look to return to the playoffs in 2014-15.

“We’ve been competitive year in and year out, and we’re not trying to take our foot off the gas,” Kroenke said. “We’re trying to figure out how to punch through to that next level of the NBA.”

Denver missed the postseason for the first time in 10 years – a streak that many observers predicted would end much earlier after the Nuggets were forced to trade All-Star forward Carmelo Anthony in February 2011.

Instead, the Nuggets succeeded by compiling a deep, talented roster that won a franchise-record 57 games in 2012-13, only to be decimated by injuries in its first season under Shaw.

“We have good players who are still getting better,” Kroenke said. “The hardest part in professional sports is staying patient. I fully understand and appreciate from a fan’s perspective how they want success tomorrow.

“But there’s a process to winning at the highest level and you can’t skip steps. We’re trying to build this to a place it’s never been. I understand the uneasiness from fans, but I think my fathers ownership history of trying to build a winner should provide a backstop for them to lean on… I expect us to be right back there next year.”