San Antonio Spurs: The Definitive Case for Becky Hammon to succeed Popovich
By Dylan Carter
Nevermind the fact that they’d make history — The San Antonio Spurs should hire Becky Hammon as the next head coach because she’s the best fit for the job.
In the San Antonio Spurs’ first scrimmage of the Orlando restart, we got to see what things would look like with Becky Hammon as the primary shot-caller. The WNBA legend and veteran assistant coach with the silver and black has been groomed for the position with multiple teams interviewing her over the last few years for their coaching vacancies.
No one has snagged her from the Spurs quite yet, but she’s bound to become the first woman to hold a head coaching position for any of the four major sports in the United States. When her time comes and that history is made, it 100 percent should be done with the silver and black.
Besides the fact that she’s already a San Antonio legend after a successful career with the San Antonio Stars, now the Las Vegas Aces, Hammon is a conduit of corporate knowledge. She’s led the Spurs’ Summer League teams on multiple occasions including a championship in 2015. For a franchise that generally builds from within, it’d be outlandish to see San Antonio outsource their head coaching job once 71-year-old Gregg Popovich calls it quits.
There’s no one better suited for the job than Becky is. She’s more experienced than most of the other options, knows the Spurs’ system well and has superior basketball intellect that can be instilled in the team through conversation and game-planning.
Next: Corporate Knowledge
1. Becky Hammon is the San Antonio Spurs’ longest-tenured assistant coach.
Of the candidates on the Spurs’ bench, Hammon is the most experienced with the team. She’s been with the organization since the summer of 2014 when she officially was added to the staff, but Hammon’s been around the team for much longer than that. In her playing career, Hammon rehabbed by hanging around the NBA team when they took over shared space with the WNBA franchise.
To clarify, the longest-tenured assistant coach is Chip Engelland, but he’s not one of the primary coaches on the sideline. Engelland is a specialist who focuses on offensive technique and shooting. His teachings are responsible for some of the best shooters in franchise history finding their range and gaining confidence. He’ll be a wonderful asset to a first-year head coach like Hammon if she gets that chance.
The Spurs operate by a code of conduct founded on good ethics, hard work and meticulous strategy. Hammon’s been immersed in the Spurs’ Way for five years now. She knows what it takes to groom these players for the next level and compete with unselfish, team-first basketball. By her proximity to the greatest coach of all-time, Hammon’s picked up some nifty tricks and will inherit a team that’s already well-versed in the organization’s practices.
Stepping up into that role will be easier for Hammon than any other head coaching candidate that’s not Popovich himself. Certainly, it’ll be a bit weird to see someone other than Pop calling the shots for a while, but there’s not a single person on the market who’s more qualified than her.
Hammon knows Spurs basketball and they need that once Pop’s tenure comes to a close.
Next: Leaping into a new era of basketball
2. As a younger coach, Hammon can usher the San Antonio Spurs into the modern era of NBA basketball.
For as much as Hammon is the right choice to instill Spurs’ values in the team, it’s also clear that she’s willing to be flexible. During the team’s first scrimmage, she slotted DeMar DeRozan down at the four-spot to open up space for the young guards to start at positions one-through-three. If that’s not modern basketball then I don’t know what is.
As a fearless leader with an ambitious approach to the game, Hammon’s been an amazing mentor to many of the Spurs’ players — namely the guards like Bryn Forbes and Dejounte Murray. She’s watched these young men grow into better people and players through high moral standards, sound virtues and dedication. When you empower players to fulfill their potential, they ultimately trust you, which is why Hammon is such a powerful player’s coach.
Here’s Becky Hammon on why she played the trio of Dejounte Murray, Derrick White and Lonnie Walker IV together pic.twitter.com/IDiNHwuCTP
— Tom Petrini (@RealTomPetrini) July 23, 2020
It’s a player’s league, after all. Modern sports favor the player over someone like the head coach or the front office nowadays and since the emergence of LeBron’s reign over the league, player empowerment is key to a good foundation. This isn’t new for the Spurs though, as they’ve done everything to make their players better on and off the court for years now. It’s a moral standard set by Popovich that Hammon falls into perfectly and can push into the modern era of basketball.
10 of the league’s 30 head coaches have less than 250 games of experience in that position under their belts. Many of them were assistants beforehand who were nabbed away because someone else saw their potential to be more. It’s happened time after time in San Antonio to the point where Hammon is the only assistant left with significant years of service in her role.
She’d instantly become one of the younger head coaches, which translates to a more modern approach to the sport. Hammon can take Popovich’s teachings and make them her own by calling the shots in a greater role for the team. When that’s the case, the sky’s the limit for San Antonio.
Next: Balancing experience with winning
3. Hammon witnessed the San Antonio Spurs at their best and their worst, so she can balance winning strategy with a rebuilding core.
When San Antonio won its championship in 2014, Becky was hanging around the locker room and getting acquainted with Spurs basketball. Her playing days were numbered and the next phase of her career was unsure until she got a job offer from the same team she’d be spending time with as a player and spectator. They saw her potential and believed she’d become a great asset to the organization.
Now, she’s taking on a larger role for a version of the Spurs that’s different from what she began with. Believe it or not, that’s a good thing if she’s going to take over as the team’s next head coach when Popovich ultimately retires.
San Antonio’s rapid-fire offense and spunky defense from the 2014 Finals run sparked the next generation of basketball. It proved to the world that uptempo teams that shoot a lot of triples could compete for a championship so long as they stuck it to their opponents on defense too. That was influential in former Spur Steve Kerr’s Warriors run that included the greatest regular-season record of all-time and multiple championships.
Top-3 defenders on the Spurs:1. Becky Hammon2. Dejounte Murray3. Derrick White pic.twitter.com/lJdWoLuYjd
— Evan Closky (@EvanClosky) July 19, 2020
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Hammon was there for it all, though maybe not directly in the Finals. Everything that the team worked on behind the scenes, she was there for. She was up close and personal as Kawhi Leonard transformed from a quiet defender with some scoring upside to a perennial MVP candidate and an all-time great NBA player.
Through the ups and downs of the organization over the last four seasons, Hammon has seen it all. Peaks and valleys, fractured relationships and new ones blossoming, the ends of careers and the beginnings of new ones. Hammon has enough experience with Spurs basketball to draw positives from the best of the team and the negatives from the worst.
Even when Popovich is watching Spurs games from a wine cellar, the organization will still feel his imprint from the top down. Hammon is the only available coach who could even begin to match the experience-level that Popovich had within the franchise.
I’m sure she has her own thoughts about how to proceed that might not align with what Pop thinks. I trust her to do what’s right for the Spurs as her responsibilities expand.