Shockingly, the San Antonio Spurs’ entrant into this year’s Las Vegas Summer League was a joy to watch.
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Weird, right? The same organization that gave us perhaps the most aesthetically-pleasing entrant into the 2012, 2013 and 2014 NBA playoffs managed to trickle its wily ways down into a prospect tournament. Spurs assistant coach Becky Hammon, after just one official year on the San Antonio bench – following two years as a regular staple at Spurs’ practices – led a team as head coach featuring the super-slow but ultra-effective Kyle Anderson to a tourney win.
And, following that win, she earned the fawning praise of both her players …
… and league observers:
These basketball reasons are why the NBA needs to get the novelty of the first hiring of a female head coach out of the damn way. Becky Hammon can coach your favorite team, and she can coach it well. And when she is hired and when she does coach it well, we can move on to more important things. Like gender equality in jobs that actually matter.
There are no open NBA head coaching gigs, and unless some head coach and his bosses have a complete meltdown between now and October (never count out a certain franchise in California’s state capitol!), there won’t be anything opening up by the start of the 2015-16 season. There is almost 100 percent certainty that Hammon will spend that season as she spent her inaugural campaign in 2014-15 – sitting behind the Spurs bench as an assistant third or fourth on the team’s totem pole.
And that’s just fine! NBA coaching is in a good place these days, due to the work of San Antonio’s head coach: Gregg Popovich. Popovich pairs old school irascibility and motivation techniques with an ability to think on his feet, be curious when needed, and a knack for adaptability. San Antonio’s offensive schemes look absolutely nothing like the sets that brought the team its 2005 championship, and yet a decade later an entirely new system (offensively, at least) might rank as the top championship favorite heading into this season.
As a result of Popovich’s careful mix of stern glares and patient moves, the NBA has grown up around him. There are a couple of iffy coaches out there, we’re not going to name names (though regular readers know who we’re on about), but as a result of certain franchise’s motivations heading into 2015-16 no head coach is really on the hot seat. This means Becky Hammon isn’t exactly set to take to a lead role anytime soon.
If Jason Kidd can be trusted with running a team with a $100-plus million payroll just weeks after retiring from basketball, however, Hammon (a WNBA point guard until 2014) certainly should be. If Derek Fisher can have absolutely no loss in job security after running a 17-win New York Knick team (after, also, taking the job just weeks after retiring), Hammon should be just fine with any outfit.
Steve Kerr, also a Gregg Popovich-acolyte, might be the NBA’s Next Gregg Great Coach, but despite a sterling resume as a player, executive, broadcaster and internet scribe, he had no coaching experience at any level before brilliantly leading Golden State to a title in his first year. Clippers coach Doc Rivers also won NBA Coach of the Year in his first year on the bench with Orlando, jumping to the role with (say it with me) no coaching experience.
These are all smart basketball people, two of them worked in the same arena as Gregg Popovich, and despite Fisher’s early troubles (hardly his fault) all will be or already are fantastic NBA head coaches. This league is all about its players, as Jonathan Simmons noted above, and there are only five to a side. Becky Hammon, as is the case with fellow Spurs assistant Ime Udoka and as was the case with former Spurs assistant and current Atlanta Hawks head coach Mike Budenholzer, is ready to recognize as much and act upon it at the highest level.
Popovich, who reportedly promised recent signee LaMarcus Aldridge that he’d stay on the bench for the duration of Aldridge’s contract, isn’t going anywhere any time soon.
Because this is the NBA, though, some other coach will be. And Becky Hammon is as good as any candidate we’ve ever seen to step in, and take over.
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