Published: June 6, 2013
DENVER - How is this for basketball irony?
One afternoon in April, before the Nuggets opened their playoff series against the Warriors, long before George Karl knew his days in Denver were numbered, I asked Karl to name his NBA coach of the year - if it wasn't him.
The first name out of Karl's mouth: Frank Vogel, of the Indiana Pacers.
Now Karl is out and the Nuggets are on the market for a coach.
The first name out of their mouth should be Vogel's top aide: Brian Shaw.
That's your guy, Josh Kroenke. Act fast. Or risk missing out on the next big thing.
If there was a perfect fit to lead the Nuggets in the Melo era and beyond, it was Karl. His breakneck style of basketball made for a menacing opponent at altitude.
Thank you, Coach Karl. Along with Anthony, you made pro basketball in Colorado matter again. You did it with class and courage.
If there is a perfect fit to lead the Nuggets from high seed to NBA champions, it is Shaw. He won three titles as a guard with the Lakers. Shaw knows what it takes to turn a pretender into a contender.
On Thursday, soon after Kroenke fired Karl and the Nuggets found themselves without a GM or a coach, I reached out to several NBA scouts.
Here is what I learned about Shaw, the associate head coach of the Pacers:
"He's the whole package - player development, X's and O's."
"He's a West Coast guy, through and through. I can't see him going to Brooklyn."
"(Indiana) would miss him. Vogel would miss him. He's a big part of what they do."
"He's been instrumental in the development of Paul George."
"He's a players coach. Guys listen to him. They don't have a choice; he has the (NBA championship) rings to prove it."
Sign me up.
The NBA types didn't mention that Shaw once dated Madonna. Hiring Shaw would not be like a prayer; it's the closest bet to a sure thing as there is in the NBA.
"He likes to fish," one NBA scout told me. "He loves the outdoors."
I have an extra pair of wading boots and a 5-weight fly rod to throw in the package that will, ahem, lure Shaw to Pepsi Center.
If we have learned anything about Kroenke over the past month, it is that the 33-year-old governor has the guts to make the tough decisions.
Joe Sacco, gone. Karl, gone. Toronto is offering how much, Masai Ujiri? Pack your passport.
Hello, Joe Sakic and Patrick Roy. Hello, Nuggets coach to be named later.
Let his name be Brian Shaw.
And let me say this: I am less enamored with the Pacers' run to the Eastern Conference finals than most. Pushing the Heat to the brink made for East Coast TV ratings and a feel-good storyline: Small-market Indiana throws a scare into deep-pocketed Miami.
But that's in the Eastern Conference. I watched the Pacers at Pepsi Center, and that outfit would have been fortunate to make the playoffs in the West.
Three weeks of playoff success is not why I think Shaw should coach the Nuggets.
Rather, the 47-year-old is the ideal fit because player development was central to the growth of the Pacers. Shaw mentored George and helped the Fresno State product mature into an All-Star. Shaw spent a summer working with Lance Stephenson and turned "Born Ready" into actually ready. The transformation of Roy Hibbert was not lost on Shaw.
Player development too often went underappreciated during Karl's eight-plus seasons in Denver. Shaw would build on the foundation Karl helped nurture.
"He's a teacher," one NBA scout told me.
Shaw is the ideal fit because he would embrace the high expectations of a team built to earn a top-four seed in the West.
Sorry to say, doomsdayers: the Nuggets are going to be just fine.
I wrote in April the Nuggets needed to change coaches if they didn't escape the Warriors in the first round of the playoffs. Here we are.
Yes, there will be real competition to hire Shaw.
The Clippers, Grizzlies and Nets also need coaches. In terms of winning right away, Denver trumps them all as the top destination.
With the Clippers, the star point guard reportedly got the last coach fired. The star forward is more fragile than a Hollywood starlet's reputation.
With the Grizzlies, ownership doesn't seem to think a run to the Western Conference finals was enough to extend Lionel Hollins. Who needs a boss with those expectations?
The Nets presumably have the cash money to make a hefty offer. But in that city, with the Knicks across the way, the Nets will always be the Clippers.
This is no time to wallow for Karl. He's too respected and will be hired elsewhere before you can say, "Good karma."
This is the time to look forward to the next big thing. His name is Brian Shaw.
Bring him to the Pepsi Center and let the good times flow.