DENVER — Obviously, Denver Nuggets general manager Tim Connelly was only kidding and not trying to put this kind of pressure on his new coach.
Sitting next to Brian Shaw on Monday, Connelly was asked about the expectations for the Nuggets, a team that won a franchise-record 57 games last season only to bow out in the first-round of the playoffs for a fourth straight time.
“Ring or bust,” Connelly said, grinning.
Shaw didn’t so much as flinch.
That kind of talk is nothing new for Shaw, especially after once playing for the Los Angeles Lakers and later serving as an assistant coach under Phil Jackson. The way he was taught, failing to win a championship was viewed as a missed opportunity.
Someday, Shaw envisions that kind of attitude in Denver as he takes over for George Karl, who was fired following another first-round flameout.
“I understand that and we have to take baby steps in gradually getting there,” Shaw said. “As long as we get there, I’m fine with it.”
Shaw believes he has the proper formula, too: Aggressive defense, reliance on a powerful center and solid execution in a half-court system.
Almost the opposite of how things used to be done with the Nuggets, who favored speed a little more than structure.
This new brand of basketball is just fine with swift point guard Ty Lawson since the Nuggets’ fast and free-flowing system clearly wasn’t working come playoff time. Still, old habits may be hard to snap as Lawson gets accustomed to running this modified offense.
“I think we’re going to have some hiccups early, trying to get into it. But I think we’ll be good,” Lawson said on the eve of training camp. “I’m ready to go. Brian Shaw is ready to go.”
That he is as Shaw steps in for Karl, the 2012-13 NBA coach of the year who’s spending the season in the broadcast studio.
In what was a tumultuous offseason, Denver also lost executive of the year Masai Ujiri to Toronto — replaced by Connelly — and defensive stalwart Andre Iguodala to Golden State.
What’s more, sharp-shooting forward Danilo Gallinari could be out until at least December as he recovers from a torn ACL.
Even with all the changes, the Nuggets believe they’ll be in the thick of the playoff chase. Not only that, but capable of making it past the first round. Their big offseason acquisitions included another speedy point guard in Nate Robinson, forwards Darrell Arthur and J.J. Hickson, along with guard Randy Foye.
“Everybody is expecting us to tank a little bit and not do as well,” Lawson said. “We’re going to exceed everybody’s expectations this year.
“You can tell by the way (Shaw) is walking around here. He wants to show everybody that this is his first time coaching and he’s going to prove he should’ve been here a long time ago.”
JaVale McGee could be a big factor in Shaw’s system, the way Roy Hibbert became a presence in Indiana. McGee worked on his low post moves all offseason to be ready for an increased role. So, too, did Timofey Mozgov.
Shaw realizes there may be some growing pains to get them up to speed.
“It would be great if we win 57 games again,” Shaw said. “But I understand that there may be some games here or there that may be sacrificed for the fact that McGee and Mozgov weren’t a focus of offense before.
“I want us to just improve daily in practice and game by game so whatever that win total is, if we’re fortunate enough to make the playoffs, we’re prepared and we’ve gone through everything we need to go through to get us to advance deep into the playoffs.”
As for his starting lineup, Shaw wants to wait to reveal it. He’s treating training camp as an open audition.
His message is simple: Playing time is earned.
“Because of our depth I want the first unit to wear teams down and the second unit to come in and wear teams out,” Shaw said. “I want that tag-team mentality at every position that we have. One guy goes out that doesn’t mean there’s going to be a drop off.”
Lawson is hoping a new coach and system translates into a new trend in the playoffs.
“I’m ready to experience the second round to see how it really feels, how intense the games get, how much more concentration you need,” Lawson said. “I’m just ready.”