The San Antonio Spurs turned heads prior to the 2014-15 season when they hired Becky Hammon as the first full-time female assistant coach in NBA history. A year later she is already being looked at as a future head coach in the league.
The hire came after Hammon served as an unofficial coaching intern for the Spurs following her playing career. It was the perfect situation for her. She could hone her skills and learn the NBA game under a respected NBA coach, Gregg Popovich, who would never let the situation turn into a sideshow for the media.
To put it simply, many looked at Hammon as a project and if anybody thought she could eventually become an NBA head coach it would be a ways into the future, if at all.
Then the Spurs gave Hammon the reigns of their Summer League team and she led the team to a championship.
This is not to say winning a Summer League championship makes one qualified to be an NBA head coach — it is only seven games — but the tone has changed from “oh, that's interesting” to “she has a real shot to be an NBA head coach.”
One former assistant general manager with the Brooklyn Nets went as far as to say he would consider her for a head coaching job right now.
The biggest factor in favor of Hammon is who she is being mentored by. The opinion of Popovich carries a lot of weight in the NBA and if he says she has what it takes others are going to listen, as explained by Kevin Arnovitz of ESPN.
“The power of a Popovich endorsement is the NBA’s ultimate seal of approval. NBA general managers and owners have marveled at what a conversation with Popovich during the interview process can do for a candidate. In Atlanta, Mike Budenholzer didn’t exactly ace the interview. But a call from Popovich that touted Budenholzer’s nuanced qualities and commitment to culture moved opinion. When a rival general manager is ready to measure Hammon’s capacity for a head-coaching job, that power of persuasion, which has the league’s best track record, will be at play on [Hammon's] behalf.”
And while it has only been a year, Popovich is already calling her “a natural.”
If there is any doubt what Popovich thinks about her potential, he has also compared her to other NBA head coaches.
Arnovitz explained that Hammon is already building a reputation of having strong coaching instincts and smarts.
“Those who know Hammon rave about her instincts and understanding of the game,” Arnovitz writes. “She’s quickly established a reputation as an 'out-of-the-box thinker' who appreciates the practical application of situational strategy but also the pursuit of new ideas and innovation, like her mentor, who has emphasized that the former point guard knows as much about the pick-and-roll as Tony Parker.”
Marks went further in his assessment of Hammon's coaching future for CBS Sports Radio.
“It wouldn’t just be because they went 6-1 in Summer League and beat Phoenix in the finals. I think she has started to prove her merit. She is paying her dues like a lot of the assistant coaches working up the ranks. She played in the league. She was a point guard. That’s your on-field quarterback. She’s being tutored by probably the best coach we’ve seen in a long time in Gregg Popovich.”
Marks also added that the Summer League performance has put her over the top and cannot be ignored noting that he was at Summer League sitting behind her bench and that she has a “certain characteristic” not many people have, comparing her to Milwaukee Bucks head coach Jason Kidd.
She was able to command the respect of the players, according to Marks. Watching her on the sidelines, it is hard to argue.
Of course, there is still work to be done before she takes the next step. She spent most of her first season as an assistant sitting in the second row. She likely needs time on the bench next to Popovich and as Arnovitz points out, she probably also needs time for the rest of the NBA to get to know her before she can truly be accepted into the coaching “fraternity.”
Then again, it only takes one bold owner, in a league full of them, to give her a shot and it could come sooner rather than later.
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