Portland’s next head coach should be Becky Hammon

It’s way past time for someone to give the Spurs assistant coach her shot

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Becky Hammon
Becky Hammon
Photo: Getty Images

The Portland Trail Blazers are looking for a new head coach after parting ways with Terry Stotts earlier this month, and they’re honing in on a few candidates. According to reports, three of the finalists for the position, who have all had two interviews, are Clippers assistant Chauncy Billups, longtime coach Mike D’Antoni, and Spurs assistant Becky Hammon.

Yep, that Becky Hammon. The Becky Hammon that’s been working on Gregg Popovich’s staff for seven years. The Becky Hammon that was the first full-time NBA assistant coach when she was hired in 2014. The Becky Hammon that became the first woman to serve as an acting head coach when Popovich was ejected from a game last season. The same Becky Hammon that has broken many barriers before continues to do so — she’s the first woman to reach the final stages of a head coaching search. There’s just one more barrier to break.

The Blazers need to hire who they determine to be the best fit. According to Jason Quick, Trail Blazers beat writer for The Athletic:

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“There are three things the Blazers are looking for in a new coach: improve the defense, develop schemes that can help alleviate the pressure Damian Lillard sees from opposing defenses, and nurture and develop the young talent like Nassir Little, Anfernee Simons and CJ Elleby.”

If defense is a calling card of what this organization is looking for (and it absolutely should be after finishing this year 29th in defensive efficiency), then that raises red flags as to the candidacy of D’Antoni. In his four years as the head coach of the Houston Rockets, his defense ranked 18th, seventh, 17th, and 15th in defensive rating. Average at best. Maybe that’s good enough in the eyes of Blazers general manager Neil Olshey.

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“We want to improve on the defensive end of the floor, someone with strong leadership qualities, someone who’s going to hold people accountable on both ends of the floor,” Olshey said after the season. “Hopefully, somebody with coaching experience that has hit certain benchmarks.”

It’s the last part of that quote, however, that makes me think D’Antoni could still be firmly in consideration.

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For a team that has made the playoffs eight years in a row, but seems stagnant and stuck and unable to to make that final step to a championship team, Portland needs a change. That change should be one that is made for a qualified coach who has worked for arguably the game’s best, who would provide a different view on the game and would be a new voice in the locker room. That change should be Hammon.

Veteran center and two-time NBA Champion Pau Gasol, who has played for Hammon, wrote this in 2018 on The Players Tribune:

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.

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As someone that played under Phil Jackson and Gregg Popovich, I consider his opinion on the ability of a coach to have merit.

This needs to be the year. This needs to not be another instance of someone interviewing to be passed over yet again. This is an opportunity for representation and diversity in the NBA to make a major breakthrough, and it’s an opportunity that I deeply hope Portland will take — not for the sake of diversity, but because Hammon deserves to be an NBA head coach.