As an assistant coach for the past nine years, Brian Shaw spent as much time as possible helping players warm up on the court before every game. He would then race back to the locker room to shower and change into his suit before returning in time for the national anthem.
As the first-year head coach of the Denver Nuggets, he will have to alter his pregame routine.
“I’ll have to find a balance,” Shaw said. “That’s going to be a big change for me.”
It was a summer of change for Shaw, who was named Denver’s coach on June 25. Before he could move his family to Colorado, he took part in the NBA draft, visited players in free agency, attended the NBA Summer League and assembled a coaching staff.
“It’s been a strange summer,” Shaw said. “I hit the ground running. It’s been a lot.”
After supporting friend and fellow Oakland, Calif., native Gary Payton at the Basketball Hall of Fame induction ceremony, Shaw will spend the remainder of September with his assistants preparing for the start of training camp on Oct. 1.
“Right now, we’re just trying to get used to each other,” he said. “I’m trying to establish what our terminology is going to be, so we’re all on the same page. We’re meeting and I’m gathering information and ideas. We haven’t had a lot of time to get settled.”
Shaw also is spending time studying video of Denver’s 15-man roster. Once players start reporting for camp, he wants them to know that the door to his office is always open.
“The most exciting thing for me is doing it from the ground up together, establishing that trust,” he said. “There are coaches you feel are on another stratosphere and you feel like you can’t get close to them, you can’t talk to them. There’s a fear factor. I don’t want it to be like that. I want to be approachable. I want to connect with them and build that trust and establish those relationships.”
An open line of communication will be important for a young team with depth at every position. The competition for minutes figures to be fierce, but Shaw enters camp with a solid foundation from which to build.
“If we started training camp tomorrow, the starting lineup would probably be Ty Lawson, Randy Foye, Wilson Chandler, Kenneth Faried and JaVale McGee,” Shaw said. “JaVale McGee has to be given an opportunity to show that he’s a starting center in this league and can be a force on both ends.
“Faried, with his energy, has earned (the chance) to start, but there’s competition. Darrell Arthur’s a solid player. J.J. Hickson is a solid player that can play the 4 and 5. (Timofey) Mozgov, we have to give him a chance at backup center to show what he can do. All these guys are young. They have to develop. The only way they can develop is to get out there on the floor and get some experience playing.”
Shaw also has two dependable guards in veterans Andre Miller and Nate Robinson, and he is intrigued to learn more about young players Evan Fournier, Jordan Hamilton, Quincy Miller and Anthony Randolph.
“Just trying to teach them how to play the game with a pure heart and play the game the right way,” he said. “If you’re true to the game, the game is going to be true to you. What you put into it is what you’re going to get out of it.
“As long as everybody’s giving that ‘A’ effort and they make mistakes trying to do the right thing, I can live with that. But if you’re not working and you’re not trying and you continue to make the same mistakes over and over again, that’s when we’ll have a problem.”
Shaw described himself as “laid-back by nature” but he isn’t sure what his demeanor will be on the sideline in the heat of a game.
“Phil Jackson didn’t stand up a lot, but he had a presence,” Shaw said of his former Los Angeles Lakers coach. “Some coaches pace up and down the sideline. Will I be a coach that stands up most of the game and paces the sidelines, or will I sit down and get up when I need to get up?”
Shaw, who spent the past two seasons as associate head coach of the Indiana Pacers, got a taste of calling the shots last spring when Pacers coach Frank Vogel was ejected in the third quarter of a game against the Cleveland Cavaliers on April 9.
The Pacers trailed by 20 points entering the fourth quarter but rallied for a 99-94 home victory.
“When we were down 20, I was sitting down the first few minutes. And then I got up because I wanted the players to feel my sense of urgency,” Shaw recalled. “I pretty much stood up the whole fourth quarter. I felt like standing up and being active showed the urgency.”
Urgency is part of the job description in the NBA. Shaw is one of 13 new coaches in the league this season and one of seven taking over a 2013 playoff team. He doesn’t want to put added pressure on his players or coaching staff to match Denver’s team-record 57 wins from last season.
“We’re going to try to get the most out of what we have,” he said. “If it’s 46 wins or 48 wins, 50 wins, that’s what it is. In the process of going through the season, we want everybody to get comfortable with the way we’re going to do things. And then if we are fortunate enough to make the playoffs, we’ll try to make some noise and go the distance.”
That approach worked for Shaw while winning five NBA titles as a player and assistant with the Lakers. It also was successful in Indiana as the Pacers advanced to the Eastern Conference finals last season.
Shaw hopes the formula translates to Denver. He’s definitely willing to work up a sweat to make it happen.