DENVER (AP) — Last week, Denver Nuggets players broke their huddle with a chant of “1-2-3 … Six weeks,” interpreted by some as a countdown to the end of a season gone sour.
Brian Shaw didn’t even make it that far. The first-time head coach was fired after 1 1/2 seasons on Tuesday, with the team at 20-39 and struggling to win at home. Assistant coach Melvin Hunt was promoted to interim coach and the Nuggets promptly won in his first game, beating the Milwaukee Bucks 106-95 to end a six-game slide.
The timing of the dismissal was somewhat surprising given that just last week general manager Tim Connelly seemed to signal Shaw’s job was safe at least through the end of the season.
“We were hopeful we could dig ourselves out of the hole, play more respectful basketball,” Connelly explained. “Unfortunately, our struggles have been pretty immense and led to today.”
Bucks coach Jason Kidd said he had dinner with Shaw the night before and that Shaw didn’t appear to have any sort of inkling his firing was imminent.
“This wasn’t anything, I don’t think, he saw coming,” Kidd said after his team’s morning practice. “It’s unfortunate what happened with B-Shaw, being one of my mentors as a player and also a good friend.”
Shaw went 56-85 for a .397 winning percentage. The Nuggets were in the midst of 10 straight losses at home — one shy of tying the franchise record set in 1997-98 — before ending the skid on Tuesday night. The team has also nosedived since the All-Star break, going 1-6, and attendance has suffered.
Forward J.J. Hickson said Shaw addressed the team before departing. Shaw’s message was simply to “finish up strong and be pros. Wished all of us luck,” Hickson recounted.
Asked if Shaw lost the locker room, Hickson said, “not in my opinion.”
“Have to look in the mirror individually, and own up to some of the stuff that’s going on around here,” Hickson added.
Nuggets President Josh Kroenke said the team will look for a permanent coach after the season.
“This has been a trying season for all of us,” Kroenke said in a statement. “And we appreciate Nuggets fans continued faith and patience as we build our proud organization back to the NBA’s elite.”
Shaw replaced George Karl, who was ousted after Denver won a franchise-record 57 games in 2012-13 only to be bounced from the first round of the playoffs for the fourth consecutive season.
The first season as an NBA head coach for Shaw was marked by injuries and a dispute with point guard Andre Miller, who was eventually traded to Washington. The Nuggets went 36-46, missing the playoffs for the first time since 2002-03. The Nuggets returned to health this season, but failed to live up to expectations.
The affable Shaw was seemingly on the hot seat in November after Portland torched the Nuggets for 84 points in the first half. It was the most points scored in the first half by a Denver opponent since Phoenix scored an NBA-record 107 points on Nov. 10, 1990.
Things began to settle down, though, and the Nuggets went on a five-game win streak. Later, Shaw even eliminated morning shoot-arounds on game days to give his players more time to rest.
In January, Ty Lawson was arrested for investigation of driving under the influence. A month later, the speedy point guard skipped the first practice after the All-Star break when he missed his flight back from Las Vegas. That didn’t sit well with Shaw, who kept Lawson out for a game.
Last Friday against Utah, Nuggets players uttered the “1-2-3. … Six weeks” chant when Shaw wasn’t around. Shaw told The Denver Post and other outlets Monday the chant “all stemmed from me saying that we hadn’t won a game in six weeks on our home floor. So I just want to set the record straight in terms of that. That’s the real truth behind what’s taken off and put us all in a bad light.”
After winning three titles with the Los Angeles Lakers during his playing career, Shaw won two more as an assistant under Phil Jackson before becoming associate head coach of the Indiana Pacers. He interviewed for a dozen head coaching positions before Kroenke hired him on June 25, 2013.
Kroenke called Shaw a “champion and a gentleman.” He noted that since the Kroenke family purchased the franchise in 2000 “we have constantly strived to field a competitive team.” In noting the 10 consecutive playoff appearances and 57-win season in 2012-13, he said: “Expectations have been raised and we want more.”
Hunt, who’s in his fifth season as an assistant for the Nuggets, said he will borrow some tactics from both Karl and Shaw.
“All 10 toes are in,” Hunt said. “We’re going to figure out a way to win games.”
AP Sports Writer Arnie Stapleton contributed to this report.
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