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Brian Shaw brings title aspirations to Denver Nuggets

New coach accustomed to teams that play deep into the postseason

New Nuggets coach Brian Shaw won three NBA titles as a player and two more as an assistant coach with the Los Angeles Lakers.
Garrett Ellwood/NBAE/Getty Images

Brian Shaw isn’t a fan of long summer vacations.

As an NBA player and an assistant coach, his teams advanced to the conference finals nine times and went on to capture five championship trophies.

The lofty goals won’t change now that he is the new head coach of the Denver Nuggets.

Flanked by team president Josh Kroenke and general manager/executive vice president of basketball operations Tim Connelly, Shaw was officially introduced as the 20th coach in the team’s NBA history on Tuesday.

He takes over for George Karl, who guided the Nuggets to the playoffs for nine straight seasons. Denver won a team-record 57 games last season but lost in the first round of the playoffs for the ninth time in 10 years.

“The 57 wins during the regular season were great, but I’m accustomed to going far in the playoffs and playing into June,” Shaw said. “That’s something that’s going to be emphasized and stressed on a daily basis. I’m looking forward to getting a chance to work with these guys and start planting that seed.”

Shaw, who spent the past two seasons as associate head coach of the Indiana Pacers, inherits a talented roster anchored by young players such as point guard Ty Lawson, forwards Wilson Chandler, Danilo Gallinari and Kenneth Faried and centers Kosta Koufos and JaVale McGee.

All six of those rotation players are under 27, and the Nuggets are also hoping to re-sign starting swingman Andre Iguodala, who is 29.

“I love this roster. I think it is young, fresh and energetic,” Shaw said. “I have a lot of respect for coach Karl and what he has been able to accomplish throughout his career. I am not trying to come here and fill his shoes. I want to build on the good things he was able to do with this team and create my own legacy and put my own stamp on things, with the help of these guys (Kroenke and Connelly).”

Shaw, 47, certainly has paid his dues to get to this point.

Drafted by the Boston Celtics in 1988, he played for seven teams over the course of 14 NBA seasons, and he even spent a year playing professionally in Italy. After retiring in 2003, he worked for the Los Angeles Lakers as a scout and then joined their coaching staff the following season.

After learning from 11-time championship coach Phil Jackson, Shaw joined the Indiana Pacers as associate head coach in 2011-12. Considered one of the rising young teams in the East, the Pacers went 49-32 last season and took the eventual NBA-champion Miami Heat to seven games in the conference finals.

“I think with what they have done in Indiana over the last several years was attractive to both Tim and I,” Kroenke said. “There is a process to winning at the highest level and I think that Brian’s championship experience both as a player and a coach is going to be invaluable to our roster. I am really excited to see what he can do.”

Known for his intelligence as a player and ability to relate to his teammates, Shaw has long been considered one of the NBA's top coaching prospects. He interviewed for roughly a dozen jobs over the past few years before landing with the Nuggets.

“It just came down to not really anybody taking a leap of faith and giving me an opportunity,” Shaw said. “That’s why I say I am so humbled and feel so fortunate and blessed that Josh and Tim have given me that opportunity and taken that leap of faith.

“Mr. (Stan) Kroenke is one of the most respected owners in all of professional sports, and to have the opportunity to work for him and to work with Josh as well as with Tim is an honor.”

After interviewing several candidates, Kroenke and Connelly tabbed Shaw to guide the Nuggets into a new era. They were impressed with his championship pedigree and connections to elite players such as Larry Bird, Kobe Bryant, Kevin McHale, Shaquille O’Neal and Jerry West, along with coaching greats Jackson and Red Auerbach.

“We were fortunate to talk to a lot of very bright basketball coaches who have successful experiences,” Connelly said. “But with Brian, some of the names he mentioned are truly the legends of the game. I’m not sure there is another guy who can go from Red Auerbach stories to Paul George stories.

“I think his overall experience both as a player and as a coach and being around minds that we respect so much perhaps separated him from the pack.”

Shaw also has a remarkable story of personal perseverance. It was 20 years ago Wednesday that his parents and sister died in a traffic accident while driving from Oakland to Las Vegas.

Shaw’s 11-month-old niece Brianna survived the crash. Shaw and his wife Nikki adopted her and raised her as their own daughter.

“The things I’ve had to deal with in life, basketball just pales in comparison to those things,” Shaw said. “But those things helped me prepare for what I have to deal with in this game.

“My path has never been the easy path. I didn’t start on my high school team and still was fortunate enough to get a college scholarship. I got drafted by the Celtics, played one year and went over to Italy my second year.

“Being traded, being cut, nothing’s ever been smooth for me. That’s just the way it is. I understand it. I just try to persevere. The more time it takes, the more you learn, the more patience you get. Now is just my time and I’m going to make the most of it.”