DENVER (AP) — In his playing days, Brian Shaw was more of a role player, taking a back seat to the bigger names on the court.
His coaching career sort of had a similar feel: A respected basketball mind, only no one would give him a shot to lead a team.
That is, until now. After a dozen interviews over the years that all ended the same way — teams going in a different direction — the longtime assistant finally landed his first head coaching job with the Denver Nuggets.
"At times, it got frustrating," Shaw said at his introductory news conference on Tuesday. "At the same time, I just looked at it as it allowed me more time to learn and to get better."
Shaw steps in for George Karl, the NBA Coach of the Year who was ousted after the team won a franchise-record 57 games, only to be bounced from the first round of the playoffs for the fourth straight season.
The 47-year-old Shaw isn't trying to follow in the footsteps of Karl.
And he's not trying to simply be a clone of his mentor, Phil Jackson, either, a name that might have actually hindered him over the years, instead of helped.
See, teams were leery of Shaw. Sure, he captured three championships as a player with the Los Angeles Lakers and two more titles as an assistant under Jackson, but the intricate triangle offense that Jackson taught scared off some organizations.
"I jokingly said to (Jackson), 'Coach, I thought playing for you and working for you would be my biggest asset. Actually, it's hurt me the most,'" said Shaw, who's still working on assembling his assistant coaches. "I've never gone into an interview and said, 'I only believe in the triangle and this is the system I'm going to run.' But I understand everyone's thought process because it's such a unique system."
Jackson is pleased his protege is finally getting a fair shake.
"He's one of the brightest young coaches in the game and has a great future," Jackson said in a statement. "I commend the Nuggets for recognizing this and for giving him this opportunity."
As for what type of offense Shaw will indeed run, well, he said that's still a work in progress. He wants to evaluate what the team did well last season — push the ball up the floor and score in the paint — before devising a scheme. One thing's for sure: He wants this team to be more productive in a half-court setting, since that's what wins playoff basketball series.
On Tuesday, he had a few of his new players show up for the news conference. Kosta Koufos was there. So were youngsters Quincy Miller and Anthony Randolph.
Shaw knows he has to earn their respect — his five championship rings are a powerful motivator, but actions mean more.
"They don't necessarily care how much you know, they want to know how much you care," Shaw said. "I've been through a ton of things in my life that puts things in perspective for me so when I sit down with a player and I say, 'I know how you feel, I can relate to that because I've dealt with that,' they feel it."
Shaw said that coming up soon is not only the 20th anniversary of the car accident that killed his parents and sister, but also of losing good friend and former teammate Reggie Lewis, who died of a heart condition.