Throw a dart at their schedule, and at any particular moment the Denver Nuggets could look like the worst team in basketball or a monumental success. They opened 1-4, won 10 of their next 12, then not long after dropped eight straight.
In the aggregate, Denver is more or less what people figured — a good-but-not-great team capable of making the playoffs, but certainly no lock to do so.
The bigger question for the Nuggets going forward is whether they made the right move in hiring Brian Shaw to replace George Karl after a 57-win season. Shaw’s authority was tested when veteran guard Andre Miller – never known as a people person even when happy, and having fallen out of Shaw’s rotationt – unloaded on his coach while sitting on the bench during Wednesday’s home loss to Philadelphia.
The Nuggets initially suspended Miller but then rescinded the suspension and put him on leave. Miller, says the team, will re-join the Nuggets on Monday and according to the Denver Post is – shocker – now on the trade block.
Important developments, but for Denver what matters more than Miller’s Mile High future is the way in which Shaw handled the problem. It represented an important test, something Shaw understood.
“We dealt with it in the locker room after the game, and then the next day I just felt it was important, in lieu of practicing I sat down with my staff and each player on the team, and we probably took about three hours to get through everybody, and just talk about what happened and what we weren’t going to accept and what we weren’t going to tolerate,” he said.
Shaw viewed Miller’s outburst as a symptom of the losing.
“What I was trying to demonstrate to our team is that’s what happens with losing teams, you start to splinter off and go in different directions, point the fingers, and blame everybody else,” he said. “Phil (Jackson) used to burn sage when our team would go through (slumps), to try and get all the demons out.
“It wouldn’t go over if I tried to do something like that, but just talking it out, and airing things out for me was important to let everybody know that these kinds of things happen during the season and this is when you have to stay together, more than any other time.”
The next night, the Nuggets snapped their eight-game losing streak by beating Memphis.
“It seemed like everybody was kind of liberated, and more free in the way that they played,” Shaw said.
On Sunday, the Nuggets made it two straight wins, overwhelming the Lakers with 77 second-half points en route to a 137-115 victory. I’ll leave it to those who have watched each of Denver’s games to evaluate Shaw as a tactician. In reality, player management is the most challenging part of an NBA head coach’s job, and without question Shaw experienced more high tension BS in L.A. than he will ever see in Denver, something he alluded to Sunday night.
So in his first crisis, Shaw remained calm and addressed it head on. (As opposed to, say, demoting a high-priced assistant to scouting report duties.) Should the Nuggets keep a sense of momentum going forward, the week’s events could go a long way toward establishing Shaw, long-respected as a player and assistant, as a solid head man.
On to the rankings.