Actually, Shaw has more than a couple of rings. He’s got a jewelry box full of them, with the three that he won as a player and the two he picked up as an assistant coach with the Lakers.
You would think his résumé would hold some weight on a team that’s sinking fast in the Western Conference standings, but that hasn’t been the case as his team quit on him during the final four games heading into the All-Star break. The Nuggets lost by an average of 27 points in those outings.
And while this team has been decimated by injuries of late, specifically at point guard, and is undersized at most positions, there’s no excuse for rolling themselves out like a doormat to get trampled on.
The truth is that this team isn’t very talented with its current roster of healthy players; not even Phil Jackson could get this team into the playoffs.
About 30 or so games into the season, the Nuggets were near the top of the league in bench production. This has dropped significantly because some of the guys at the end of the bench are now getting far more playing time.
For example, Anthony Randolph and Quincy Miller, who have each been a healthy scratch for more than 20 games this season, have averaged 12 minutes and 16 minutes, respectively, during the Nuggets last five games. That’s not a good sign.
Giving the bottom of the roster a significant bump in playing time is a formula for poor team play and mounting losses. These young guys need to be eased into the lineup, not forced in. And to expect any of them to really help this team right now is delusional, but that’s what they’re being forced to do. It also doesn’t help to have a handful of guys with attitude problems who think they know more than the coach.
Nate Robinson has had run-ins with every coach he’s played for, so it shouldn’t come as a complete surprise that it’s happened in Denver, too.
Kenneth Faried, a fan favorite who occasionally puts up big numbers, has become borderline un-coachable. He’s happier with the NBA lifestyle than he is being an NBA player. He wants to run and have fun, rather than buy into Shaw’s system. And he said as much earlier this season after putting up some monster numbers that coincided with a five-game winning streak.
“Coach let us hoop,” said Faried. “He let us play our game, and our game is get out and run – Ty (Lawson) pushing it, opening the court up for him. Me standing below the defense, rebounding the ball and that’s what really helped me. It’s a burden off our back wondering what he wants.”
And there’s your problem. Faried knows what Shaw wants – a half-court game and stingy defense. But Faried doesn’t have any interest in doing it consistently. Kenneth wants to do what Kenneth wants to do.
Yet, the most divisive character in the locker room is no longer there, and for good reason. Andre Miller, who’s expected to be traded this week at the deadline, has been rotting at home for weeks after complaining about playing time during a game and then getting into Shaw’s face about it.
Miller was banished. The bridge has been burned on both sides and for those who believe Miller should have been playing with the injuries to Lawson and Robinson; it would have been poor judgment to undermine the first-year head coach. Miller is hardly a leader, but the young guys listened to him. And infecting a young locker room with Miller’s attitude would have driven a wedge even further between Shaw and some of his impressionable players.
Yet, veteran Darrell Arthur is one of the few who seem to get it.
“(Shaw) is setting the tone. He said at the beginning of the season that he’s not taking any (nonsense). That’s what you look for in a coach; you don’t want him to go back on his word. You want him to make a statement and stick to it.”
And for all of you George Karl apologists out there, I’ve got news for you, George wouldn’t be getting much more out of this roster. As a matter of fact, it might be worse. He wouldn’t be able to run without a point guard and his emphasis on defense was, well, lacking.
Karl’s teams had talent. So much in fact, if they fell behind by 18, they could flip a switch and still win a game. Shaw’s team isn’t good enough to know where the switch is on the wall.
And that’s what makes this so aggravating for Nuggets fans. If many of these players were as good as they thought they were, then they’d be playing for huge guaranteed contracts; they’re not, and for good reason. So it’s better to keep their mouths shut and ears open, and try to learn something from a guy who’s won five titles.
Shaw’s message is the right one for the long term, but getting the right players to listen and execute is the trick. It’s not going to happen this year or maybe next. But I’ll take my chances with Shaw. He’s the right man for the job. He just needs the right group and a healthy cast of players to make this work.
Eric Goodman hosts “Drive Time with Goodman, Pritchard and Britton” every Monday through Friday from 4p-6p on Mile High Sports Radio (AM1510 | FM 93.7). You can also follow Eric Goodman on Twitter@ericgoodman