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The “hunt” for a new Nuggets coach should end at Melvin

Colin D. | March 4, 2015

“Shaw’s failings as the Nuggets head coach had a lot to do with his inexperience. That seems clear. And, unfortunately, that leaves the Nuggets in a position where they’re not likely to take a chance on a first-time head coach with their next hire. It’s unfortunate because that rules out interim coach Melvin Hunt”

Your Denver Nuggets took a calculated risk when they hired Brian Shaw. Always a bridesmaid and never a bride, Shaw had never held the reigns of an NBA team before. He had been a high quality assistant, though, for a couple of teams. Shaw studied at the feet of the Zen Master in LA and had done enough with the Indiana Pacers that he was considered one of the hottest coaching prospects in the NBA.  But still he had never been a head coach. The Nuggets believed that he was a good fit – and that he was as close to the polar opposite of George Karl as anybody they could possibly hire. He was young and black and he preached a slow-it-down half-court style of basketball more fitting for the NBA post-season than the spread-the-floor speedy style of old man Karl. The team took a shot at giving Shaw his first head coaching gig with full confidence that he was ready to take the Nuggets to the next level.

Well, we all know what happened. Rather than reach the next level the Nuggets fell down an empty elevator shaft clear down to pre-Carmelo era awfullness. Shaw bumbled away his opportunity and completely lost the team. For a guy reputed to be a “players’ coach” he made enemies in the Nuggets locker room with quickness and efficiency. Though he is far younger than George Karl his mentality toward athletes is far more “old school”. Shaw famously drew the ire of players like Andre Miller by treating them in a way they percieved as more fatherly than coach-like. Shaw took away their cell phones and made them clean up their trash and tried to mold them into professionals but in the process made some of them feel like children. Smart NBA people smirked at Shaw’s approach knowing that he didn’t have the “rep” to get away with trying to be a disciplinarian to a group of millionaire basketball players.

Shaw’s failings as the Nuggets head coach had a lot to do with his inexperience. That seems clear. And, unfortunately, that leaves the Nuggets in a position where they’re not likely to take a chance on a first-time head coach with their next hire. It’s unfortunate because that rules out interim coach Melvin Hunt.

Like Brian Shaw, Hunt has no head coaching experience at all but has been a promising assistant in the league for some time. He spent a couple years with the Lakers, five years with the Rockets, five with the Cavs and is now in his fifth season with your Denver Nuggets. Most importantly, Hunt is a disciple of George Karl. He understands the Denver brand of basketball and is well liked and respected by nearly everybody he comes in contact with. Players really seem to admire him. Of course, it’s one thing for an assistant to earn the loyalty of a locker room and another thing altogether for a head coach. Still, it’s clear to anybody that has watched Hunt interact with Nuggets players that they listen to him.

I attended the Nuggets / Suns game at Pepsi Center a week ago. One observation I made from my pretty-good seat (I moved close while the ushers weren’t looking) was that Hunt seemed to be coaching harder and more actively than Shaw himself was. Hunt was almost constantly standing and shouting at players and he greeted each one as he left the floor, get knuckle knocks from Lawson, Chandler, Gallo and the rest. The players walked right past the pacing Shaw and straight toward Hunt.

This Nuggets fan feels that Hunt should absolutely be given a chance to be the Nuggets next head coach. In fact, he should be considered the leader in the clubhouse for the gig. But the Nuggets will doubtlessly begin a head coaching search in the off-season and probably work to attract a veteran shot caller, leaving Hunt to his role as an assistant (assuming the new guy kept him around). The team will be too gun shy to give another first-timer control over the Nuggets for fear that another fast failure would leave even more egg on the faces in the front office.

It’s a shame that Melvin Hunt probably won’t be given a real opportunity to seize the Nuggets head coaching job. It’s very possible that if it had been he rather than Shaw who was hired two years ago that Hunt would still be coaching the Nuggets at a high level. Hiring Hunt would have provided the Nuggets with a much smoother transition into the post-Karl era by shocking the system of the Nuggets less. But unfortunately the Nuggets made what worked out to be a poor choice – and now that poor choice will work against Melvin Hunt – the man they probably should have hired in the first place.

Written by Colin D.

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