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NBA PM: What’s Next for the Denver Nuggets?

The Denver Nuggets fired Brian Shaw. What went wrong and what’s next for the team?

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What’s Next for the Denver Nuggets?

The Denver Nuggets fired head coach Brian Shaw today, which isn’t much of a surprise given how badly the team failed to live up to expectations this season and what a circus the Nuggets had become.

Yes, there’s plenty of blame to go around for Denver’s struggles, but it was clear that Shaw had lost the locker room and that a change needed to be made at some point – either now or in the offseason.

The timing of this move makes sense since Denver had lost six straight games and 12 of their last 13 contests. After entering the season with playoff aspirations, the team is 20-39 (which is the sixth-worst record in the league and third-worst in the Western Conference).

Melvin Hunt will step in as the Nuggets’ interim head coach and then the team will search for Shaw’s long-term replacement over the offseason.

“On behalf of everyone in the Denver Nuggets organization, I would personally like to thank Brian for his services the past two seasons in Denver,” said Nuggets president Josh Kroenke. “He is a champion and a gentleman and I wish him nothing but the best for himself and his family moving forward. Since we purchased the franchise in 2000 we have constantly strived to field a competitive team, culminating in 10 straight playoff appearances and a franchise record 57 wins in the 2012-13 regular season. Expectations have been raised and we want more.

“This season our management staff has remained patient and supportive as decisions of this nature are never taken lightly. Patience is encouraged, as long as the organization continues to show progress toward a greater goal. However, competing for championships is our goal, and therefore we decided to make this decision now and look forward to conducting an extensive head coaching search upon the season’s conclusion. This has been a trying season for all of us, and we appreciate Nuggets fans continued faith and patience as we build our proud organization back to the NBA’s elite.”

In addition to the team’s struggles on the court, there was some drama behind the scenes in Denver.

Ty Lawson butted heads with Shaw throughout the coach’s tenure with the Nuggets, and in recent weeks Shaw had upset some players by calling the team out and questioning their effort publicly. While he was trying to use the comments to motivate his team, it just seemed to make the situation worse. Veteran Jameer Nelson even responded by saying that the coaches had to improve and hold themselves accountable too (in other words, stop putting all of the blame on the players and look in the mirror).

The tension had gotten to the point where during the Nuggets’ recent loss to the Utah Jazz, the team broke a huddle by chanting “1, 2, 3… 6 weeks!” (celebrating the fact that there are only six weeks left in the season), according to The Denver Post. The communication between coach and team was so bad that Shaw told the Boston Herald he had recently tried rapping a personnel report to reach his players.

Now, the Nuggets are reportedly looking at veteran head coaches such as Mike D’Antoni (who started his head coaching career in Denver), Alvin Gentry and Avery Johnson among others, according to ESPN’s Marc Stein.

D’Antoni had been linked to the Nuggets job since January, when reports surfaced that he would be the frontrunner for the job if Shaw was fired. This season, the Nuggets ran an up-tempo offense (with the fifth-highest pace in the NBA), so D’Antoni makes a lot of sense as a candidate (as does Gentry).

In his 12 years as a head coach, D’Antoni was 455-426 in the regular season and 26-33 in the postseason. He has never coached in the Finals, but he made the Western Conference Finals with the Phoenix Suns in consecutive seasons in 2004-05 and 2005-06.

Gentry also has 12 years of head coaching experience, with a 335-370 regular season record and 12-9 postseason record. His best season came with the Phoenix Suns as well, when he led the team to the Western Conference Finals in 2009-10. The 60-year-old hasn’t been a head coach since 2012-13, but he’s been a respected assistant coach with the L.A. Clippers and Golden State Warriors.

Johnson has seven years of coaching experience, with a 254-186 regular season record and 23-24 postseason record. His best season was back in 2005-06 when he led the Dallas Mavericks to the NBA Finals, but lost to the Miami HEAT in six games.

Denver will interview a number of candidates over the offseason and then make their decision.

As I wrote last month, the Nuggets badly want to acquire a star player. They tried to land Kevin Love last offseason before he was traded to the Cleveland Cavaliers and they’ll continue to pursue a cornerstone-type player. The team decided to trade away several veterans for first-round picks such as Timofey Mozgov, Arron Afflalo and JaVale McGee. The hope is that they can bundle their assets for a star who could help them win now. This may be one of the reasons why the team is looking at experienced, win-now coaches to replace Shaw (who was a first-time head coach).

All eyes will be on the Nuggets and Orlando Magic this offseason as they interview candidates and try to find their next coach.

Kings Name Divac VP of Basketball Operations

The Sacramento Kings announced today Vlade Divac has been named Vice President of Basketball and Franchise Operations.

In this capacity, the team says Divac’s responsibilities will include advising the team’s front office and coaching staff, assisting the organization’s global branding efforts, augmenting fan outreach initiatives and oversight of player development programs. Additionally, he will facilitate talent evaluation and help foster relationships between the team and a growing pipeline of European athletes.

“With an unparalleled philanthropic track record that spans the globe, Vlade Divac is the epitome of our NBA 3.0 philosophy,” said Kings owner Vivek Ranadivé. “He has a unique perspective and global stature that will only further elevate our organization around the world.”

“It’s a great honor returning to the city that has provided a lifetime of unforgettable experiences,” said Divac. “Sacramento and the Kings organization were always in my thoughts and I often dreamed of having a role in helping our amazing fans realize the ultimate NBA prize. I’m thankful to Vivek for the opportunity and look forward to creating more special memories here.”

“Over the past year that I have gotten to know Vlade, he has proven himself as an ambassador to the Sacramento community,” said Kings general manager Pete D’Alessandro. “The organization is fortunate to have him as an advisor. I look forward to his contributions, especially with respect to his knowledge of the international game.”

Divac, 47, has served in a variety of administrative and leadership roles since retiring from professional basketball in 2007. Most notably, he was the President of the Serbian Olympic Committee in 2009.

As a player, he spent six seasons with the Kings and he ranks third all-time during the Sacramento-era in rebounds (3,538) and blocked shots (523), ninth in points scored (5,176), seventh in games played (454), eighth in free throws made (1,209) and eighth in steals (453). Divac’s jersey was retired by the Kings in 2009, and he is one of just four players in NBA history to tally at least 13,000 points, 9,000 rebounds, 3,000 assists, 1,200 steals and 1,600 blocked shots, joining Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Hakeem Olajuwon and Kevin Garnett.

Alex Kennedy is the Managing Editor of Basketball Insiders and this is his 10th season covering the NBA. He is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.

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