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Does Becky Hammon Deserve an NBA Coaching Job?


A lot has been said and written about the hiring of Becky Hammon over the past few days and I've missed nearly all of it. I saw a headline in the corner of my Facebook newsfeed and click on the link to learn that Hammon was hired by the San Antonio Spurs as an assistant coach, after having worked with the team previously while rehabbing from a knee injury. I don't know what the court of public opinion has said about her hiring, but I figured if I named this blog "Does Becky Hammon Deserve an NBA Coaching Job," that might provoke you to read my thoughts on he subject. Did it work? Good. 

Now that I have lured you in, let's take a look at what qualifies her to be an NBA assistant coach...wait a minute, I just realized I don't necessarily know exactly what qualifies someone to be an NBA assistant coach. Obviously, the person must have some background in the sport and Hammon certainly does. According to her Wikipedia page , she is probably the best basketball talent South Dakota has ever produced (besides Eric Piatkowski). As good a player as Eric was, I realize the talent pool in that state may get very shallow very quickly, but she backed it up at Colorado State and again in the WNBA and again on international teams and even though the US didn't invite her to try out for our Olympic team, the Russians thought enough of her to sign her up to play for their squad that won the bronze.

So she knows how to play the game. That probably can't be disputed. Does she know how to coach the game? While it sounds like this might be her first actual coaching job, casual observers often overlook the fact that point guards have often been coaching their teams while they are playing the game. Anyone who has spent time around coaches knows the successful ones are multi-taskers, so anyone who can coach and play at the same time seems like a natural fit to be a coach when they get done playing. However, that doesn't guarantee success.

There are plenty of former players who simply don't make a good transition to coaching at any level (and many others who do). How does one even evaluate whether a coach is "good" or not at the NBA level? The Lakers just hired Byron Scott, even though he has only won 44% of the games he has coached in the NBA. That's one way to spin it. Another is that he was the NBA Coach of the Year in 2008 and has won 57% of the games he has coached in the playoffs (which is what really matters, right?).

At least Scott and Hammon have played professionally at the highest levels, because unless you've done that, you're not qualified to be an NBA coach, right? True, unless you're someone like Erik Spoelstra or Lawrence Frank. So how did those guys manage to get hired as NBA coaches and should we even be turning our attention away from whether or not Becky Hammon should be an NBA coach?

The bottom line is that all of these people know the game of basketball inside and out and probably have a fair amount of knowledge about the industry of basketball and how people come into having coaching jobs. It really isn't a secret formula. You have to know what you're doing, you have to work hard and you have to know the right people. There are a lot of very talented coaches out there, who can check off those first two requirements, but stumble when they get to the third. 

Becky didn't stumble with the third requirement and didn't "luck" into it either. She was in the position to network with Gregg Popovich and his staff, because she knew the game well and her hard work carried her to a level that put her in the same circles as a three-time NBA Coach of the Year and five-time NBA NBA Champion coach. 

Questions may still linger about whether NBA players will listen to and respond to coaching from a woman, but those will only be asked by people on the outside looking in and they have their own agendas. They may need to have a talking point for a sports column (or blog) or they may need to debate the subject on a sports talk show or they could just be jealous or sexist. Popovich and his staff have already given Hammon a trial run and seemed confident enough in her ability to hire her as a full-fledged assistant. I'm certainly in no position to question his decisions as a coach, so while I understand why other talking heads may (it's their job), I won't pay attention to any of them, unless their resume as a coach is better than Pop's.