Lakers Q&A: Former Lakers assistant Brian Shaw on Indiana Pacers, Kobe Bryant and head-coaching gigs

Below is a partial transcript of a recent interview I had with Pacers associate coach Brian Shaw, who both played for the Lakers (1999-2003) and served as an assistant coach under Phil Jackson (2004-2011). Shaw covers various topics, including his associated coaching gig with the Indiana Pacers, his head-coaching aspirations, Paul George’s development and Kobe Bryant’s season. Click here to read more about Shaw’s time with the Pacers (40-24), who will host the Lakers (34-32) tonight at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.

What have you gotten out of your stint with Indiana thus far?

I’ve been with the Lakers for 12 seasons prior to last season and got accustomed to doing things pretty much one way. This has afforded me the opportunity to see a different way of doing things in different systems. Obviously they’re an up and coming young team as opposed to a veteran team. They were established in championship caliber for most of those years I was there with the Lakers. It’s just a different perspective, but I’m learning and trying to be a sponge and soak in as much as I can. There’s different ways of doing things.

What has been different?

In terms of the system, every team runs actions that involve the same things that we ran in the triangle. But in L.A., we were a dedicated triangle team. Here, in terms of the film study and video edits, the way we prepare for a game, it’s personal preference. Phil Jackson had his way of doing things. He had veteran players so he allowed his players to figure things out for themselves a lot of times. On the other end of it, we have a young team who’s trying to find their way. It’s a little bit more scripted. We have to do more teaching and not take for granted that these guys know what they should be doing on the floor at all times and what they should do. They haven’t played together as long as a unit. They don’t have a whole lot of experience. At the same time, our coaching staff had to gel too. Frank Vogel and Dan Burke were here with Jim Boylen and myself. We were not. We had to get familiar with the personnel as well as the way Frank Vogel likes to do things. Shootarounds are very different. We spend a lot more time here watching film than we did when I was in L.A. We watched film in L.A. because we watched a lot more film here. We have young guys and have a lot more teaching to do. It’s a different approach. It makes me more well rounded as a person and as a coach seeing different ways to look at things and go about doing things.

When everything happened the way it did with the Lakers hiring Mike Brown after Phil Jackson’s retirement, how did the opportunity with Indiana come up ?

It was interesting because the moment that the decision the Lakers to go with Mike Brown, Frank Hogel I helped him get a position with the Lakers before that. He was doing some advance scouting for us. He was in a position where he had taken for Jim O’Brien. Larry Bird knew he was a young coach. He wanted him to go out and hire what he considered coaches who had some experience and had a good rapport with the players in order to hire him on as a permanent coach. They had a list of names that would satisfy Larry. Frank Vogel reached out to me immediately to gauge my interest in coming there and helping him coach this team. I got a call from Frank Vogel one day and Larry Bird the next day. We were teammates the first three years I was in Boston. He just basically said the Lakers made their choice and they’re going in a direction they’re going in. But we’d love to have you. We have a spot for you. We have a young coach that can use what you have and you guys can balance each other out to help build this team. That made me feel good. I hadn’t played with Larry since 1991 from 88 to 91. My knowledge of the game and the way I approached it when we were teammates were different. So they reached out to me.

As weird as it is asking you this because of Phil’s success, do you almost see your current gig as a need to prove that you can thrive as a coach outside of his tutelage?

No, I don’t feel like I need to prove anything. Out of the 14 years that I played, I only played the last four years under Phil in that system. The other 10 years, I played on six other teams that ran different systems. I played for Larry Brown, Kevin Lockerty? Brian Hill, P.J. Carlesimo. I played for different coaches that ran different things. Other coaches I respected around the league. I have an understanding of how to play the game of basketball. 12 years my teams went to the playoffs, deep into the playoffs for the most part. I do feel like when it was all said and done and I’ve gone on to head coaching interviews that I get typecasted as a triangle guy. I don’t run from that. I love the triangle system. Not only was it very successful, not only in Chicago and during the time in L.A., it was very successful. The only thing about it is even here in Indiana, we run probably 50 percent of what we do are things that are incorporated in the triangle as well. We just don’t call it the triangle.

Other teams run it but they just don’t call it that. Not just myself, but other assistant coaches maybe have gotten penalized. Phil and his system has beaten a lot of coaches over the years and a lot of general managers and their programs. We were a team that was dedicated to that system. When you have the one guy on the sidelines who was the innovator of that in Tex Winter, Phil Jackson, who coaches it and all the other assistants that played under or ran the system, we had the only guys in that league that ran the triangle. The true form of the triangle. When you branch off on your own, it’s tough. Kurt experienced that when he went to Minnesota. He had JB Bicketstaff? Bill Laimbeer and Reggie Theus on his staff. HE was going to try to run the triangle there in Minnesota, but even his assistant coaches don’t have any experience in the triangle. That was unique to the coaches and players that played for the Lakers or the Bulls. Now you have a slew of assistant coaches with a system that’s not natural to them as well. He makes it difficult. All in all, with the system I’m in here, it’s more along the lines of what the majority of teams run across the league. A lot of pick-and-roll, spacing type sets. I played in and the other teams I played for. Basketball is basketball as far as I’m concerned.

How have you seen Paul George develop?

I have to give credit to Paul George for putting in the work. He grew up in the L.A. area. He followd the Lakers growing up and he idolized Kobe Bryant. That gives me a lot of weight in terms of my dealings with him. I can say to him that I’ve seen the best in the game work, his attention to detail and the way he lifts weights and takes care of his body and his attention to detail when he watches film and how he studies his opponent and his overall competitiveness and will to win. When I come here and know that about him that he’s a guy who he looked up to, I can say to him at a day when he doesn’t feel like practicing or he’s going through the motions that what makes you think you can take the day off when that guy over there on the West Coast that I know doesn’t take any days off? He’s already the best. I can always kind of dangle that in front of him. I played with Kobe and I coached Kobe and played against his dad.

I’ve known him since I was a little boy. At the same time, Paul is unique in that he’s a two way player in my opinion in the league. He can bring it on the offensive end, but he can also guard multiple positions. He knows the personnel more than anybody else in the league. With his size, he’s 6’9”, can move his feet and defend with his length and he has tremendous footwork and he’s only 22 years old. He has a tremendous upside. It’s been a pleasure. He’s like a sponge. He watches and he listens. I use Kobe a lot. I’m conscious of it. When I see they’re going to be on TV and they play certain opponents, I’ll text Paul at night and say you should be watching this game, watch how Kobe approaches going against this guy or that guy. Watch his demeanor throughout the game and then watch his demeanor in the fourth quarter down the stretch of games, just trying to always point out little things. I had the benefitof being around the best in the game as far as I’m concerned. The guy who has the most will power out of anybody that I’ve been around.

What have you made of Kobe’s season thus far?

I think he’s had to wear a lot of different hats. There’s times when he had to facilitate for the betterment of the team. There’s times he’s needed to be aggressive and really score the ball. Obviously take on the defensive responsibilities of whoever the top perimeter player is. The tough part about the leader is sometimes you have to get on your guys and push buttons when you know they have it in them and it’s not coming out for whatever reason. They’ve had to deal with different injuries and coaching changes and the pressure of being in L.A. and the expectation that comes with that. There’s the other team across the other side of the locker room is a force to be reckoned with this year as well. He’s had to wear a lot of different hats. He’s doing what he does. That’s how he’s built. That’s how he’s made. It’s no surprise to me the team is coming around. The talent that they are, he’s leading the charge and playing the way he’s able to play.

I used to as a teammate because he got me in my latter years, I used to tell him you’re going to slow down one day too. It’s just amazing that he’s still going as strong as he’s going. That’s a testament to his work ethic, takes care of his body and with weights and icing down after games and all the things that he does to keep himself out there on the floor.

When did you think Father time would catch up to him?

Usually when it happens, it happens quickly. You go from this level and it’s a big dropoff. He’s 34 years old and some people may say he’s still pretty young. He’s not 40. But 17 years is 17 years. I don’t care if you came into the league at 17 years old, that’s still 17 years of wear and tear on your body. The fact that from the beginning he was so dedicated to the weights, discipline that it takes to stretch and ice. Those are boring and monotonous things that a lot of players just skip.

They just jump right into it. But it’s just like brushing your teeth or putting your clothes on every day. It’s part of who he is. I can’t help but believe that’s why he’s had not only the longevity, but still being able to do it as such a high level. You see the guys on the Knicks. They have some guys who are getting up there in age that aren’t playing the amount of minutes that he’s playing. They’re missing games. They’re not playing at the same level he’s playing. But he’s a special individual. If anybody was going to do that, it was going to be him.

With Paul, he’s mentioned you two went fishing during the offseason and believed that was a huge breakthrough in getting to know you and understanding what you need from him. What do you remember about that trip?

That was at the end of the season last year during the playoffs. We had a couple of days in between games. His parents were out for the playoffs. I live on a lake in Indiana and everybody knows I love to fish. Talking to him, I found out he grew up fishing a lot too. He loves it. I invited the first time, him and his father came out, we both went fishing. Then him and one of the guys he lives with came out a couple of times after that. It just gave me an opportunity out on the water. I had broken the ice to get to know who he was or what his upbringing was like, especially when I went fishing with his father.

I got to ask him questions and ask him about how Paul was as a youngster coming up and how he handled criticism and discipline and things like that. The weather was nice. We were catching fish. So it gave me a little bit more of an understanding of who he was and what he was all about. It opened that door for me. Everybody who knows me knows I don’t sugarcoat things. I cut straight to the chase. I say it like I see it. But fishing with him allowed him to let his guard down and embrace everything that I was trying to give him.

What’s been your main responsibilities so far?

It’s been all over the board. Our setup is a lot like it was in L.A where all of the assistants share offensively and defensively and work a little bit. I do a little bit of everything. I do some of the offensive stuff. We have a lot of triangle stuff within our offense that Frank Vogel has allowed me to introduce and incorporate what he was doing, defensively as well. Probably the biggest thing is I’m the only coach on the coaching staff who has played in the league. Just understanding situations and players having somebody they can relate to who has actually gone through what they’re going through with when their bodies are tired and the rigors of being on the road, the mindset and intensity level you have to come with on certain games and certain situations.

I think they rely on me for that because I played the game at the highest level in the most pressure filled situations on the most successful teams. That holds weight with the guys. A lot of my stuff is anecdotes and telling stories and giving analogies, but keeping it real. They can’t doubt that because none of them have really been there and done that. I can always say you can do it your way and continue to get to where you have gotten to or you can at least listen to what I’m trying to say and see if it can get you to places that I’ve been to.

What about your championship experience do you hit on to them?

The mindset is the main thing. Professionalism. We played a game against the Miami Heat the other night the night before last where everybody around the league was looking forward to this matchup because the last team that had beat the Heat was us. To that point, we had beaten them both times pretty heavily when we played those games. Both of those games were on our homecourt. They had gone on this streak with the matchup. They felt confident but one of the things I tried to relay to them is it’s going to be a completely different story this game coming up.

First of all, it will be on their homecourt for the first time in the season against us. Secondly, they’re the defending champions and have two of the best players in the world on their team. They have professional pride and championship pride. You guys can’t understand what that is because you guys have no championships. They’re not going to allow the same thing to happen in the first two games to happen again. They’re going ot make changes. Their intensity will be ramped up. Their pressure will be as such that you haven’t seen or felt before. You don’t approach this game in the same manner that they are. They’re going to knock us back. They’re going to hit us first and knock us back. No matter how much you say that, you try to oprepare them for that. They don’t get it until it happens during the game. That’s exactly what happened.

It was almost like we were bum rushed and caught in the crossfire. Although the plan was in place and we felt like we prepared them for what was going to come their way, we still weren’t ready for it. I know that’s the way they would come at us. On the teams I played with that, when we got beat by a team there was chatter out there saying this is the one team that can knock you off your perch. Then that’s how we always reacted. That was the championship pride I was talking about. Those are the things I can draw from and try to prepare our teams for in those situations.

Given that Frank Vogel is a young coach, what’s been your approach on trying to help on that end?

He feels like I have a good feel for what’s happening in the game. There’s some coaches that they want to be the only voice and they don’t allow their assistants to say a whole lot. I pretty much have the green light to say what comes to mind. He trusts my judgment out there. He knows I’m going tell him what I see. Even if he vetoes my suggestions, if there’s something I see or feel, I’m going to say it. As a head coach, it’s his responsibility to decide what to do and ultimately say what’s going to happen. There’s points in the game where he’ll turn to me and say do you have any suggestions we should run right now. What are they going to do? It’s like when Phil did the same thing as well. It’s my job to give suggestions to what I think and what have you. Frank comes from a video coordinator. He didn’t play the game.

So he’s more of an analyst when it comes to this is a poor percentage shot and this is why because when you shoot it in this area on the move and off the dribble, the ball is going to go in this percentage of the time. That’s the background that he comes from. My background is from being a player. They don’t think the game that way. I look more directly at this guy right here doesn’t like when you’re all up in him defensively and when you force him to his left. I just pick up little things where I have a feel for during the game and he trusts that in me. That’s how I’m able to help him. He helps me with my organization with the statistical things and breakdowns that come across on film. I help him on the relations with the players and keeping everybody honest and on point in terms of being professional as a player and pushing the right buttons to get the most out of each of our player.

What’s your overall outlook on becoming a head coach someday?

Obviously my ultimate goal is to be a head coach and to run my own program. But I’m not going to take or go after the wrong job just to get the experience of being a head coach. I’m in a great situation here. We have a good team that’s young and only going to get better. The way I’m treated here and the freedom that I have to express myself and to coach is great. My kids love the school they go to here and the friends they made. This is the first time being around snow. They’re enjoying that for the time being. My family is happy so it’s easy for me. I’m used to moving around. That was the biggest concern for me. They’ve been in L.A. the whole time. They’ve adapted. If I’m here for a lot longer, that’s great. If the right situation comes up and the opportunity affords me to be a head coach somewhere, that’s ultimately what I want. My answer would be I have to play it by ear and take it as it comes. I’m in a good situation so it’s a good problem to have.

What variables are you determining on whether a head coaching position is right for you?

If I could have it my own way, obviously I’d say somewhere where it’s good weather. Just the other day it was snowing and it was 12 degrees outside in March. I’m California, born and raised. So that’s different for me. So if I could have it my way, we just left Orlando and Miami. I’d want weather like that all year round. But I want to be in a situation where I have a chance. Usually when you come into a job as your head coaching job, you don’t get to dictate what the situation is going to be. But you want a chance and an organization that has a game plan going forward that’s sustainable and where you have some pieces of value where you can put things together and get on the fast track.

Which teams have interviewed you for jobs in the past few years?

Charlotte, Orlando, Portland; Cleveland, Golden State, Phoenix, Chicago, Sacramento, Indiana ,

You were saying that it’s even a tightrope to accept an interview for a open position. What’s your thought process on that?

It’s a tough situation to be in. I named off all those teams. It’s been the first year I went for an interview was with the Pacers with Larry Bird when they hired Jim O’Brien that year. Having never been a head coach before, the process is they call your team that you’re currently with and they ask for permission to talk to you. Your general manager comes to you and they say such and such called, we gave them permission to talk to you. There have been teams that weren’t in good situations and ones I didn’t think would be good fits where I didn’t think I’d want to interview for that job. But I had always been advised that since you haven’t been a head coach before, you can’t really turn down any offers for interviews.

It’ll appear you’re turning your nose up to that team and they’re thinking, who do they think he is if he doesn’t want to come interview when he hasn’t been a head coach before? A lot of those situations, they’re nothing but cattle calls. You get a feeling you know with the team who they’re going to hire and who they’re really interested in. But they have to give an appearance that they’re doing their due diligence and they have to bring in a bunch of guys to make it look like they’re going through the process. But you kind of already get a feeling that they already know who they want. But they’re doing this to go through the motions. You want to stay out of that because what happens is it’s been nine times I’ve gone for interviews. Maybe out of those nine, I had three where I had a legitimate shot at getting. With six, I felt going into it that I had no shot. But I’m doing this anyway. And you look at the end of it and you can say he’s interviewed for nine jobs and he hasn’t gotten any. What’s wrong with this guy? That’s the part that’s tough, dealing with that.

Did you notice the interviews last season being different because you had coaching experience outside of the Lakers with Phil Jackson?

No because it still comes down to every situation, I got the impression that they still look at me as a triangle guy. They didn’t seem to feel like that for me last year being under a different system with a different coach or the other 10 years I played in the league under different systems, that never comes into play. It’s always comes to Phil Jackson and the triangle. It’s as if that’s the only person I played for. It was the only system that I had coached.

But it never came up about Frank Vogel and his system and the differences and nuances between his system and the triangle. I’m just perceived as just a triangle guy. It’s gotten to the point where I have conversations with Phil and I said, I thought working for you and playing for you would be my biggest asset going into interviews. Actually it’s been my biggest liability. It really has. We’ve laughed about it. He’s said to me on more than one occasion. It’s best for you to distance yourself from me and our system in terms of just don’t talk about it or bring it up.

How fortunate do you feel that you were able to immediately bounce back on your feet after the Lakers passed you up on the coaching job?

I actually was going to have an audition set up to fly out to Connecticut for ESPN. I could do the basketball and analytical work. That’s when Frank Vogel and Larry were in my ear and saying you’re a basketball guy, you can always do that. But you’re so close. This will provide you an opportunity to get on a platform to be in position to get what your ultimate goal is. It was a nice feeling that there would be people out there that felt strongly enough about my ability and be a part of this staff. From grade school to junior high school and my NBA years, I’ve been a part of winning programs, championships, traditions.

I’ve never been the superstar. But I’ve always been an integral part of success. I look at coming to this team and this team hadn’t been to the playoffs in five or six or seven years to where we are now, it’s not a surprise to me. I feel like I’m around that all the time and have something a little bit to do with it. I’m patient. At some point, it will get recognized and someone will take a leap of faith and give me an opportunity. In my opinion, that’s the only reason why I haven’t been a head coach yet. It’s because I havent’ been afforded that opportunity. Not because I can’t coach and not because I can’t interview or anything like that. I just haven’t been given the opportunity yet.

What parts of your gig with Frank does it seem like he’s trying to groom you to become a head coach?

That’s what Phil did the entire time I was there with him. When he hired me, that’s what he told me. He was going to groom me to be a head coach. He did that. I think Frank is doing the same thing. That’s why I have a lot of the responsibility that I have. I feel like he’s given me the green light to coach. He trusts what I say and my intuition on certain things. It allows me to be me and do that.


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FolloW L.A. Daily News Lakers beat writer Mark Medina on Twitter. E-mail him at

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