Digging for Gold

With a new coach, a new front office, and at least four promising new players, the Nuggets’ 2013–14 season is certain to be a roller coaster ride of transition. We mined the history books and picked the brains of local analysts—and of the Nuggets’ new coach himself—to give you an insider’s look at the franchise’s past, present, and future. 

October 2013


Clean Slate
Highlights from the Nuggets’ 2013–14 home schedule.
11/1 Blazers
Home opener.
11/5 Spurs 
The defending Western Conference champs make their first of two Pepsi Center visits.
11/13 Lakers 
Will Kobe be back from his torn Achilles tendon?
11/29 Knicks 
Melo returns for the Nuggets’ only home game in a three-week stretch.
12/17 Thunder
Still one of the teams to beat in the West.
12/23 Warriors
First chance to avenge last year’s playoff upset, and now the W’s will have Iguodala in tow.
12/30 Heat
LeBron and the champs make their only Denver appearance—until the NBA Finals. 
1/25 Pacers
Coach Shaw faces his old team, an Eastern Conference favorite.
2/3 Clippers
CP3 and the best five in L.A. finally land in Denver.
2/27 Nets
Celtics fans, this is where most of your favorites play now.
3/31 Grizzlies
Another Western powerhouse arrives at the end of a tough four-game stretch, including one game against Oklahoma City and two versus San Antonio.
4/9 Rockets
Dwight Howard makes his only visit to the Pepsi Center.
4/16 Warriors
One last tune-up before the playoffs.

Time to Shine
With nearly a decade of experience as an NBA assistant coach, new Nuggets head coach Brian Shaw has more than paid his dues; now he plans to instill the confidence his team needs to win the championship he’s enjoyed five different times. Here’s how.

Born: March 22, 1966, Oakland, California
College: University of California at Santa Barbara
Playing career: 1988–2003 (seven NBA teams)
Coaching career: 2005–11 (Lakers); 2011–13 (Pacers)
Family: Wife Nikki Shaw, three kids

For the past five years or so, Brian Shaw’s name seems to have been connected to virtually every head coaching vacancy in the NBA. The reason? The guy is simply a winner. The owner of five championship rings—three as a player, two as an assistant coach (all with the Lakers)—Shaw has played or coached alongside some of the biggest names in NBA history: Kobe, Shaq, Larry Bird, and Phil Jackson, among many others. This past summer, he sat down with 5280 (before he’d even had the chance to unpack his office) to discuss roster tweaks, his expectations for the coming season, and what he learned from all those legends.

5280: How many head coaching jobs have you interviewed for?
Brian Shaw: This was my 12th.

5280How did you start to feel after the sixth or seventh?
BS: I’ve been a finalist in a few different situations, but I never really got discouraged. It gave me an opportunity to continue to learn. I left Los Angeles for Indiana [in 2010] to be in a different system. I’d been typecast as just a “triangle” guy [the complex system coach Phil Jackson rode to 11 championships]. But I played for seven different teams with multiple coaches and systems, and most of them ran more common sets. But honestly, I think my association with the triangle might have scared some people, even though about 70 percent of the league runs it in some form.

5280Do you know what system you’ll run?
BS: I’ll tailor it to the guys. I have an idea of what I want to do, but Denver teams have a history of taking advantage of the altitude, getting up and down the floor. Obviously, we want to keep some of that, but the teams I’ve been around have had success playing a more traditional style with an inside presence. We have to develop JaVale McGee and [Timofey] Mozgov. The team last year didn’t really utilize some of the things I feel those two can do, so putting them in a position to succeed and building their confidence will be a big part of it. We’re very solid at the guard positions with Ty Lawson, Nate Robinson, Randy Foye, and Andre Miller. The one concern I have is they’re all pretty small. Guys like Evan Fournier, who has a more prototypical size for a guard, will have to develop. And we still have to see what Jordan Hamilton and Quincy Miller can do. And our free-throw shooting has to greatly improve, especially if we’re going inside more. It doesn’t do any good to pound the ball inside if you can’t make them pay from the line.

5280: What differences have you noticed so far about being the head coach instead of 
an assistant?
BS: You never know all the administrative things that go on until you’re here. That and talking to the media almost every day. As assistants we didn’t have to do that. Now it all comes through you, so I’ve been learning to balance it. The first couple days I was doing so much I wasn’t eating. I’d look up and it was 5 p.m., and I’d wonder why I had a headache.

5280: How does this position feel different from other jobs you’ve interviewed for?
BS: I’m taking over a playoff team, although it will be a different team than last year’s. For me, it’s a great situation. Usually a first-time coach comes in to a rebuild or a teardown, and you have to take your lumps. So I feel fortunate.

5280How do you plan to talk about your five championship rings to this group?
BS: I’ll talk a lot about what it takes to go deep into June and how you have to be committed together from the jump. At some point I’ll probably bring the rings in and let the guys see them. I’ve done it in the past, usually right before the playoffs start, to hit home that “this is what you play for.” Obviously, the money and notoriety are great [ED: The role-playing Shaw banked more than $28 million in salary during his 14-year NBA career], but when you get these rings, you become part of an elite club. When you put on weight and lose all your hair, the guys make fun of you. They can say whatever they want, but they still have to call me a champion.

5280: What have you learned from all the legends you’ve been around?
BS: For the guys who were truly great—not just players, but GMs like Red Auerbach and Jerry West—it starts with work ethic, as well as knowledge of and respect for the game. I was fortunate to come onto a veteran team [as a rookie] with the Celtics. They taught me how to be a pro, how to take care of your body if you want to have longevity. And I saw the same thing at the end of my career with the Lakers. Being around great players and executives and seeing their expectation level means I’ve always expected to play deep into the playoffs, and I feel like I know what it takes. It can happen with this team as long as everything falls into place.