NBA Rumor: Becky Hammon Head Coach?

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Becky Hammon will likely receive her fair chance as well. “She’s been there; she’s now the longest-tenured assistant they’ve had there outside of Chip [Engelland],” another former Spurs staffer said. There does seem to be a strong amount of pessimism, however, among league officials and those with Spurs connections pertaining to Hammon’s candidacy. “Just because she’s the first female assistant on the front of the bench doesn’t mean she’s the first head coach. There’s just a lot more responsibility, and very few assistants, male or female, are truly capable of moving over to the first chair,” one NBA coaching figure told B/R. “She got pumped up for being the first. It’s a blessing and a curse. It’s a difficult situation to be in.”

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Becky Hammon can’t wait for the time when it’s normal for women to interview for head coaching positions in the NBA and their gender isn’t the story. “It’s huge and important. It’s something that can’t be (checking) the box,” the Spurs assistant told The Associated Press. “You have to hire the best person. Half the world’s population hasn’t been tapped for their mind and ability and skill sets in the sports world. It’s something that needs to change.”

Becky Hammon: NBA head coaching jobs are incredibly hard to get

SI: I know you’ve said that you do not want to make news if you become a head coach in the NBA just because you’d be the first woman to do so. But knowing that mantle would still be momentous and historic, has the process of trying to become a head coach in the NBA been more difficult than you thought it would be before you were hired by San Antonio? Becky Hammon: I think you can throw the female, male thing out the door. There’s 30 jobs. They are incredibly hard to get. And when I say 30 jobs, not all 30 are available, right? So there’s like maybe four or five that are available. And the amount of pressure and scrutiny that comes with each of those jobs, they’re just really hard to get. …

Becky Hammon: So for me, you know that process, I think I get better every time I go through it and walk through that door. But at the end of the day, an organization is gonna hire me because I’m the best coach for the job. And all the stuff that comes after that will come. There’s no stopping that tidal wave. And I think, for me, it’s always a fine line of not overlooking or underestimating or downplaying the moment. But my primary focus has to be to become the best coach that I can be, and be there for my players, for whatever organization is the right fit for me?

SI: Building off that, what do you learn about yourself in every head coach interview you’ve done, and have you walked away from any feeling extremely confident that you’d get the job? BH: They’re all a little bit different. Each team conducts their interview process a little differently, even how they get to their initial list of who they want to bring in and talk to, it’s different across the board. And, to me, I’m never going to be the coach that says, ‘O.K., what do they want to hear?’ I’m not going in there and telling them what they want to hear. I’m going to go in there and tell them about me, what I believe about their team, what I believe about myself, what I believe about the projection of their team, what I feel like they can be. Those are the things I’m going to speak to.

Becky Hammon: And so you gotta hire me for me. I don’t want to go in there and be like, ‘Oh, they wanted to hear this. And I’m gonna say this,’ but it’s not authentic. And so for me going through the interview process, not only am I digging into my own leadership style and coaching style, and getting to know myself a little bit better on each round. But I’m also trying to sell my vision, you know, of what it could be. So there’s a lot of moving parts in all of it. Like I said, each process, I feel like I get a little bit better. But they’re hard! I mean, for anybody. And then like I said, you can add the element of, you know, a little bit of the unknown part. Or ‘it’s never been done’ part, or however you want to phrase it. It adds another layer to fight through. But for me, I can’t be consumed with that; I just gotta be consumed with doing my best. That’s it. If I can do that and get better, I’m happy with that.

Becky Hammon: If you want to hire me, you'll find a reason to, if you don't, you'll find that reason, too

Becky Hammon moved the needle, but the National Basketball Association assistant coach is now focused on taking the next steps in her career, which at the same time could allow her to make history again. Weeks after Hammon was floated as a finalist for a head coaching job with the Portland Trail Blazers, which would have made her the first woman head coach in the NBA, Hammon spoke with CNBC on Saturday to express her thoughts. Hammon said she isn’t bitter about not getting the job and that she gained a greater understanding of the hiring process. Hammon added that she’s ready for the opportunity once the right team is ready.

Olshey said Hammon getting that far is an “endorsement to just how far she’s come and how close she is to being a head coach.” Olshey then said Billups checked all of the boxes, including “gravitas leadership skills.” When discussing the process, Hammon said, “I knew I was second; I knew who they wanted. And I’m OK with that, because every race I’ve gotten into my entire life, I’ve been behind, and I’m OK with that. And that’s just how it is — but at the same time, I’m not ignorant to what I’m going up against.”

Asked if she felt the rumors impacted discussions in Portland, Hammon said she didn’t read the tabloids, and she didn’t comment further on the matter. She did add: “I take each experience, and I try to grow from it, and learn from it, and get better for the next time. If people need to justify a reason to why they did or didn’t hire me, it’s a little out of my realm of control. I just try to do the best I can in the moment I’m given.” The Blazers process is over, though, and Hammon said she is focused on “taking the next step” in her career. “I know how San Antonio has valued me, and I’m OK with that,” she added.

The spotlight remains on Hammon. The social media crowd wants to see her make history as a head coach. And her every move will be in the headlines. She has no control over the attention, which both helps and hurts, but she would prefer it for the right reason — her coaching skill set. “I don’t want to make the news because I’m the first female,” Hammon said. “At the end of the day, I want to make news because I’m hired for my qualifications. It was the original intent of Gregg Popovich when he hired me in 2014 — which is: ‘She added something to the group. She adds something to our team. I admire her mind and the way she looks at the game.’”

Lillard, a six-time All-Star and face of the franchise, may not have the final say in who is chosen. But it’s prudent for Olshey to get his input as the Blazers make an important hire as Lillard enters the first year of his four-year extension in 2021-22. Allen wanted the list to include women candidates, and San Antonio Spurs assistant coach Becky Hammon will interview for the job, according to a person with knowledge of the situation who requested anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly about candidates. The Blazers also received permission to speak with South Carolina women’s coach Dawn Staley.

For the past few seasons, people from NBA Commissioner Adam Silver to former WNBA and G League coach and NBA assistant coach Nancy Lieberman said a woman will be hired as a head coach soon. How soon is soon? In an interview last season with USA TODAY Sports, NBA president of league operations Byron Spurell said, “We want it to happen organically, and when the right opportunity matches the right person, this will happen. We just feel we’re so well positioned. If it happens tomorrow or the next day or this season or a few seasons away, we’re really close. But we’re not putting a timetable on it.” Lieberman told USA TODAY Sports: “It’s right in front of us. It’s going to happen.”

Hammon has put in the work. She runs portions of practices, writes game plans and scouting reports for opponents and delivers the intel to the team and works with players on individual development. “Becky’s in a spot now where she’s in a position of power,” Spurs guard Patty Mills told USA TODAY Sports. “She’s able to direct guys on what to do and that all comes from work ethic and what she does behind the scenes and getting herself and our team ready for games. She is an NBA coach who knows her (expletive) and gets it done.”

Still seething from a heated disagreement with the referee, Gregg Popovich pointed to one of his assistant coaches, Becky Hammon, and said, “You got ‘em.” There was 3:56 remaining in the second quarter when Popovich was ejected with his San Antonio Spurs trailing the Los Angeles Lakers by 11 on 30 December 2020. With the five-time NBA champion coach gone, Hammon assumed the reins, and the transition appeared perfectly natural to her, the Spurs staff and players. Not a moment’s thought was given to the fact that Hammon had just become the first female to take charge of an NBA team. There was a game to win, and there was no one better to fill Coach Pop’s shoes.

Becky Hammon says she feels it’s time a woman serve as a head coach in the league. “Of course,” she told Hoda Kotb in a preview of an interview for NBC’s upcoming prime-time special “Inspiring America: The 2021 Inspiration List” that aired Thursday on TODAY. “I mean, this ball is never moving fast enough, in my opinion. People don’t like doing something new and different. It’s uncomfortable. It takes massive amount of risk. Somebody’s going to have to take a chance.”

Boris Diaw remembers Hammon’s rookie season as an assistant coach and her figuring out the rapid transition from star WNBA player to assistant coach. “Back then she was becoming a rookie coach and she was in that early transition from playing to becoming a coach; as all the young coaches, you could tell she was looking for what to do and how to do it because it’s different from playing,” Diaw said. “There was not even a reaction (to her being a woman). It was normal. Nobody was saying, ‘We have a woman assistant.’ The question never even came up.”

Andre Miller: “Oh she’s going to definitely be the first female NBA head coach,” he said. “It’s just a matter of time. I wouldn’t be surprised that when Pop does decide to retire that she’d be next in line. It’s a perfect situation. She knows the community, she knows management, and she’s reliable and she expects it. It’s easy to make that transition. She’s primed and ready.” (For the record, several of Popovich’s former assistants and players have gone on to be NBA coaches and two are general managers.)

“It’s something that it’s sad we have to talk about it,” Phoenix Suns coach Monty Williams told USA TODAY Sports. “We’re all coaches. The coaching position has no gender. I’ve been around ladies who have coached the game. I’m blown away at the concept that we even have to talk about what do we have to do to get them (a head-coaching gig). … “I’m saddened and frustrated on one end because we have to talk about it. At the same time, I’m glad we are.”

Becky Hammon on Pacers' radar for head coaching vacancy

San Antonio Spurs assistant coach Becky Hammon and former Sacramento Kings and Memphis Grizzlies coach Dave Joerger are among more than a dozen candidates who are expected to participate in a first round of virtual interviews for the Indiana Pacers coaching job, sources told ESPN. The Pacers are embarking on a wide-ranging search that has included seeking permission to speak to several assistant coaches in the league, including the Spurs’ Hammon and Will Hardy, Miami’s Dan Craig and Chris Quinn, Dallas’ Jamahl Mosley and Stephen Silas, Milwaukee’s Darvin Ham and Charles Lee, Orlando’s Pat Delany, Minnesota’s David Vanterpool, Philadelphia’s Ime Udoka, Brooklyn’s Jacque Vaughn and Portland’s Nate Tibbetts.

Does this mean he’s hiring Hammon? Of course not. Nor am I saying he should. That’s not the point of this story. Point is: Hammon is a fascinating candidate, and the Pacers have a history of being out in front on this issue. And the NBA is inching closer to its first female head coach. Eleven women were NBA assistants this past season, including former Notre Dame star Niele Ivey of the Memphis Grizzlies. She’s not there anymore; Notre Dame hired her in April to replace McGraw.

Popovich is famously terse, but not about Becky Hammon. “She has the ability as far as innate knowledge of the game, a feel for the game, a work ethic,” he said. “She’s gained the respect of all of our players, including guys that are no longer here, like Manu (Ginobili) and Tim (Duncan) and Tony (Parker), so all that’s in place. But my personal belief is, it’s gonna take somebody that has some courage and isn’t steeped in the old status quo of who can coach and who can’t. Why can’t a woman do what I’m doing or what anybody else is doing in the NBA?”

Hammon is an intriguing candidate — and not for public-relations purposes. The NBA is a copycat league and if she brings the same principles to the table, she could be the change that a fair-to-middling franchise needs to turn things around. “She is an interesting — and by all accounts, qualified — candidate,” a league source who declined to comment on specific coaching searches told The Detroit News. “She’s a legitimate candidate for a head-coaching job, alongside several other rising assistant coaches in the league.”

Pau Gasol: The reason I wanted to start by telling you about my parents, is that their story makes me think about today’s NBA. Specifically about how, in the 72-year history of the league, there has never been a female head coach. Even more specifically, it makes me think of Becky Hammon: a coach who has been the topic of much conversation lately, and who I’ve had the opportunity to play for in San Antonio. But if you think I’m writing this to argue why Becky is qualified to be an NBA head coach … well, you’re mistaken. That part is obvious: One, she was an accomplished player — with an elite point guard’s mind for the game. And two, she has been a successful assistant for arguably the greatest coach in the game. What more do you need? But like I said — I’m not here to make that argument. Arguing on Coach Hammon’s behalf would feel patronizing. To me, it would be strange if NBA teams were not interested in her as a head coach.

Pau Gasol: First, I’ve just gotta tell you: If you’re making that argument to anyone who’s actually played any high-level basketball, you’re going to seem really ignorant. But I also have a simple response to it — which is that I’ve been in the NBA for 17 years. I’ve won two championships … I’ve played with some of the best players of this generation … and I’ve played under two of the sharpest minds in the history of sports, in Phil Jackson and Gregg Popovich. And I’m telling you: Becky Hammon can coach. I’m not saying she can coach pretty well. I’m not saying she can coach enough to get by. I’m not saying she can coach almost at the level of the NBA’s male coaches. I’m saying: Becky Hammon can coach NBA basketball. Period.

Pau Gasol: But what I remember about this particular drill is that, at some point during it, Coach Hammon stopped us mid-motion. Coaches Hammon, Borrego and Messina walk over, and Becky says to Dejounte, “D.J., O.K. — your bounce pass? It’s too low. You’ve got to hit Pau exactly where he needs it. Run that again.” We then talk some more as a group about how I need the ball a little more precise, with a little more zip, so I could have a better chance to finish the action at the rim. And then we repeat the drill a few times, alternating from the left and right sides of court. Of course, Dejounte being Dejounte, he figures it out fast — and pretty soon we’re flying through. But something about that moment has just always stuck with me. Just, like … the level of knowledge of the game that Becky showed, you know what I mean? She noticed a small detail out of the corner of her eye — and then instantly located both the problem and the solution. And not only that, but we were also able to communicate with each other in such a way that we got the result that we needed. It’s a good reminder, I’d say, of the importance of communication between team members — especially at the NBA level. I don’t think I caught another stray pass the rest of the season.

Talking to Hammon, though, I was struck by her ambivalence about her role as a pioneer. She recognizes that she is an inspiration for many young women, and a target for many wary men. At the same time, she resists the attention to her gender. “If you don’t want a female coach, don’t hire one!” she said, with some exasperation. But, she continued, if “you want to hire somebody who’s qualified and will do a good job, then maybe you should consider me.” Like Popovich, Hammon believes that coaching involves more than drawing up plays or breaking down defensive schemes. “You shouldn’t get into coaching unless you care about the people you’re leading,” she said. That doesn’t fit the popular image of a successful coach—your Belichicks and Lombardis. But it is, as it happens, the philosophy of the Spurs.

The big question for Hammon, Popovich told me, is “Is this going to end up being something? Is she going to be able to matriculate and get into a head-coaching position?” Hammon is still early in her career, and it could take some time. “Some people are in the league fifteen, twenty years before they get into a head-coaching position, if they do at all,” Popovich said. “I tell her, very straightforwardly, I don’t know. Because I look at our country, and I have all kinds of doubts about all kinds of things, let alone whether she’s going to be a head coach.” Steve Kerr, the head coach of the Golden State Warriors, said last week, about the possibility of a female head coach, “I don’t know if it’s going to happen soon. Becky Hammon would be the one you’d say right away who could possibly get an interview.”

So, when Popovich brought Hammon in during her final season as a WNBA player, in 2013, as she rehabbed a knee injury, she talked about basketball with Popovich and President of Sports Franchises and General Manager R.C. Buford. And her knowledge about the game was clear. But that doesn’t mean she was a yes woman. “If she literally spoke the exact language, Pop probably wouldn’t have brought her in,” Buford said by phone Saturday. “She had her own ideas. She knew how to handle herself, and as Pop said, she knew when to speak and when to shut up. You have to have both to be successful.”

“I hired her because she was in my coaches meetings for an entire year because she was injured,” Popovich said in a radio interview on KNBR in San Francisco. “She’s got opinions and solid notions about basketball. Obviously, she was a great player. As a point guard, she’s a leader, she’s fiery, she’s got intelligence, and our guys just respected the heck out of her, so she’s coaching with us, she’s running drills. That’s why we made her a full-time coach and gave her the opportunity to coach at summer league.”
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