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BILL PLASCHKE

Lakers are leaving Brian Shaw out in cold with hiring of Mike Brown

Hiring Mike Brown is a sign Jerry and Jim Buss want a clean break from the Phil Jackson era. But that doesn't excuse the callous treatment of Shaw, an organizational loyalist as player and assistant coach.

June 04, 2011|Bill Plaschke
  • Brian Shaw gives instructions to the Lakers during a playoff game against the Oklahoma City Thunder.
Brian Shaw gives instructions to the Lakers during a playoff game against… (Stephen Dunn / Getty Images )

This week, the Lakers told the world about the hiring of Mike Brown.

Brian Shaw is still waiting for them to tell him.

For parts of 11 seasons and five championships, Shaw gave the Lakers clutch play, smart coaching and plenty of Kobe soothing.

Yet they hired Mike Brown without even giving Shaw a call.

Most folks figured Shaw, the season-long favorite and one of Kobe Bryant's preferred choices to replace Phil Jackson as Lakers coach, would have a difficult time winning the job once the Lakers were eliminated in the second round of the playoffs. But who could imagine his sideline seat would be so abruptly yanked away while he was still standing there?

Shaw was one of three people the Lakers said they interviewed for the coaching job, and the only one who was part of the Lakers family as an assistant coach. Yet as of Friday afternoon, 10 days after they decided to hire Brown, Shaw still had not heard from them.

"It's a little strange, going from 11 years and five championships to essentially being out on the street," Shaw said in a phone interview Friday. "But I can feel good knowing that I did everything possible to represent the Laker organization as well as I could."

A loyal employee even to this strange end, Shaw would not comment on any details of his Lakers situation. He said he had been avoiding media interviews until I phoned him, and was reluctant to speak in anything but general terms.

"I have always held the Lakers in high standing, and I'm not going to change that now," he said.

When I phoned the Lakers to ask about the snub, team officials said that General Manager Mitch Kupchak was attempting to set up a lunch with Shaw, and that owner Jerry Buss had requested his phone number.

"We have not finalized our coaching staff, so we wanted to wait to talk to Brian until we were sure," a team spokesman said.

This would make sense if Shaw was going to be part of that staff, but, clearly, he's not. By ignoring the important team touchstone that Shaw represents, it seems like the Lakers weren't waiting for something, but erasing something.

Is it just me, or does it seem like Shaw's dismissal, combined with the hiring of a coach completely unfamiliar with the Lakers' culture, was part of a concerted effort to rid the organization of anything that reminds them of Jackson?

Zen there, done that?

This is strange, risky business for an organization that has long built its brand through the strength of continuity.

When the Lakers initially hired Jackson in the summer of 1999, they kept then-coach Kurt Rambis in the house, making him assistant general manager until Jackson added him to his coaching staff a couple of years later.

When Rudy Tomjanovich was hired in 2004, Jackson's confidant Frank Hamblen remained on staff, and eventually became head coach in midseason when Tomjanovich suddenly resigned.

The Lakers' organizational tree is thick with former players and coaches, providing an important link from past to present, buffing the image of the team as family. And now, suddenly, they are going to fill perhaps the most important end of the bench with strangers?

No, Shaw did not have head coaching experience, which the Busses, Jerry and Jim, said was vital for the position. But he had Lakers coaching experience, he had Kobe coaching experience, and shouldn't that have been just as important?

"I just know that I wanted to be a Laker for a life," said Shaw. "And obviously, I thought I would."

There is talk that they will keep Chuck Person from the current staff, but he is a fairly recent addition who is not considered a Jackson disciple. While the Buss guys denied any notion of a housecleaning at Mike Brown's press conference, this appears to be a furious sweeping away of anyone closely associated with the best coach in NBA history.

They didn't take Jackson's input. They admitted they didn't seek Bryant's input. And now, not only does it appear they are not going to bring back any of Jackson's top three assistants, they didn't even phone his logical successor to explain the situation.

All of this is even more odd when one considers that Jackson is still romantically involved with team executive Jeanie Buss. I mean, really, the guy brought you five titles, he's won 11 overall, he's virtually part of the family even off the court, and yet you want to quickly paint over his legacy like it was so much graffiti?

Granted, when he was here, Jackson was larger than life, leaving Lakers ownership mostly in the shadows. And, certainly, I'm sure there were times Jackson rankled someone like Jimmy Buss by giving the impression that he had forgotten more about basketball then Buss would ever know.

Although it seems awful silly and short-sighted, it would be only human if some members of the front office wanted to use Jackson's departure as an opportunity to hack their own distinct path through Lakers history. But to coldly leave Brian Shaw lying among the refuse just seems wrong.

"I'm going to be fine, I'm going to hit the ground running," Shaw said, and of course he will.

This is the man whose three-pointer at the end of the third quarter ignited the rally to the historic Game 7 win against Portland in the 2000 Western Conference finals. He knows comebacks. He gets loyalty. He lives continuity.

"I haven't been able to do anything in the last week, people coming up to me everywhere I go, texts and calls from former players, everyone wondering about the coaching job. It's very humbling," Shaw said. "I will always be part of this town."

He should always be part of this organization. I'm cheering for that lunch.

bill.plaschke@latimes.com

twitter.com/billplaschke

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