INDIANAPOLIS — The NBA prides itself as a dues-required league.
Opportunities, whether it’s playing time, a spot in the starting lineup or a coveted administrative post, have a tendency to be earned rather than prearranged. It’s here the situation of Indiana Pacers associate head coach Brian Shaw is different, if not altogether perplexing.
Shaw’s 12-year playing career had him wearing the logos of seven different franchises. From 2004 to 2011, he served as an assistant for former Los Angeles Lakers head coach Phil Jackson before he was hired by the Pacers in June 2011.
All told, Shaw, 46, who has spent more than half his life drawing an NBA paycheck, owns five championship rings, three as a player and two as a coach.
As for a head coaching job of his own, that’s something proving to be as elusive as shadowing Michael Jordan or Allen Iverson in their respective primes.
Widely regarded as a leading candidate — if not the leading candidate — for one of the league’s offseason head coaching vacancies, Shaw was not hired to fill any. As a result, he’s back assisting head coach Frank Vogel for a second season.
Though not unhappy with his role, Shaw hasn’t abandoned his ambition of becoming a head coach.
“It can be frustrating, but the one thing I do is not get down on myself. I think everything happens for a reason, but I do think that there’s been a stigma attached that I’m a Triangle (Offense) guy because I played for Phil Jackson and later coached under him,” said Shaw, referring to the revolutionary methods that played a major role in Jackson winning an astounding 11 NBA titles from 1991-2010.
“What I don’t understand is why wouldn’t you want to emulate the guy who might be the greatest coach in the history of American team sports?,” Shaw said. “Phil has won back-to-back-to-back championships three different times.
“But being here is good for me because I’m now coaching under a guy (Frank Vogel) with a different system, and it’s been successful, too.”
During the offseason Shaw interviewed for all three NBA head coaching vacancies: the Charlotte Bobcats, Orlando Magic and Portland Trail Blazers. All three went a different direction, opting for Mike Dunlap, Jacque Vaughn and Terry Stotts, respectively.
Dunlap, 55, is a former St. John’s University assistant coach. Vaughn, 37, is one of the branches of the Gregg Popovich coaching tree, having been an assistant for the San Antonio Spurs the past two seasons. Stotts, 54, is a 1976 graduate of Bloomington North High School who already has been hired and let go in Atlanta and Milwaukee.
“They all went the direction they wanted to go,” said Shaw, who played guard/forward for Orlando from 1994-97. “I did get a second interview with Charlotte, so I thought I had a pretty good chance at that. But you have to understand those jobs from the time they opened up to the time I interviewed changed drastically.”
Case in point: the Dwight Howard soap opera in Orlando, where Shaw was hoping to land.
After firing head coach Stan Van Gundy on May 21, the Magic still entertained hopes of somehow persuading the disgruntled six-time NBA All-Star center to stay. However, as the summer wore on and the franchise’s chances of keeping Howard grew progressively bleak, it introduced Vaughn as head coach July 28. Orlando then traded Howard to the Los Angeles Lakers 13 days later.
Through it all, the Pacers were able to keep one very valuable component of what appears to be a team on the rise.
“The jobs that were available this summer, they were all rebuilding jobs,” Vogel said. “Brian is very happy here. He loves it here, and his wife and children love it here.”
Vogel is grateful to have Shaw to bounce ideas off for a second consecutive season. However, the hourglass had long ago been turned over, its sands destined to run out.
“I’m in no hurry. I’m open to whatever opportunities there are. They recognize here what I bring to the table,” Shaw said. “I’ve always had a good rapport with pretty much everyone from coaches to players. I speak my mind and am always going to hold players accountable, and I think they respect me for that.
“I have that perspective where I’m still close enough removed from the game as a player. I know the music they listen to, the fashion, the tattoos. But I’ve also been in the league in four different decades, so I have the old-school thought and the new-school thought.”
Indiana doesn’t open its season until Oct. 31 in Toronto. Meanwhile, there are Pacers practices and preseason games for Shaw to observe as he, along with Vogel and assistants Dan Burke and Jim Boylen, work daily to advance the franchise to newer and more exciting heights.
When you do what Shaw does for a living, class is always in session.
The Shaw File
Name: Brian Shaw
Job: Associate head coach, Indiana Pacers
Born: Oakland, Calif.
High school: Bishop O’Dowd (1984)
College: UC Santa Barbara (1988)
NBA playing career: Selected by the Boston Celtics in the first round (24th pick) of the 1988 NBA Draft; Boston (1988-89, 1990-92); Miami Heat (1992-94); Orlando Magic (1994-97); Golden State Warriors (1997-98); Philadelphia 76ers (1998), Portland Trail Blazers (1999), Los Angeles Lakers (1999-2003); played on three NBA championship teams with the Lakers (2001, 2002 and 2003)
Career statistics: Scored 6,547 points (7.0 ppg); had 3,183 rebounds (3.4 rpg); had 3,918 assists (4.2 apg).
NBA coaching career: Los Angeles Lakers (2004-11, assistant coach); Indiana Pacers (2011-present, associate head coach)
Family: Wife, Nikki, is professional chef; the couple have two children.