In August 2014, Becky Hammon played her last game for the San Antonio Stars and said goodbye to the WNBA to move on to an assistant coaching position with the San Antonio Spurs in the NBA. Now she is reportedly in the process of finalizing a five-year deal and returning to the WNBA, and in a roundabout way to the franchise with which she spent eight of her 16 seasons as a player.
Hammon takes over as head coach of the Las Vegas Aces and will look to lead them to their first WNBA title. The Aces were originally the Utah Starzz when the league was launched in 1997. Then the franchise moved to San Antonio in 2003, and finally to Las Vegas in 2018. The Aces honored Hammon last season by retiring his jersey, and now it will result where it hangs in the rafters.
Bill Laimbeer has coached the Aces to a record 77-45 over the past four seasons, losing in the WNBA semifinals in 2019 and 2021 and in the WNBA final in 2020. Although it is not clear at this point what role If so, Laimbeer will have with the franchise, he has established a very good base for the Aces. Will Hammon be able to get them across the finish line at a championship?
We take a look at what the coaching movement means for Hammon, for the Aces, the WNBA and the NBA.
What style does Hammon bring to Aces?
As a player, Hammon was highly respected. The story of his withdrawal from Colorado state in 1999 always needed an asterisk, as that was the year many former American Basketball League players entered the WNBA, which has influenced the number of college players chosen in this draft.
Still, Hammon always used not being drafted as another motivation chip on her shoulder, even though she already had enough of just being a 5-foot-6 guard from a mid-major school. But Hammon always believed in herself, and soon after her WNBA playing career, she made everyone believe. She was on very good teams in both New York City from 1999-2006 and San Antonio from 2007-2014, including four trips to the WNBA Finals.
Hammon was fearless in driving down the lane, could hit big shots from the perimeter, was very good at distributing the ball, and helped build confidence in everyone around her.
As a coach, Hammon can get tough when she needs it, but she’s also an uplifting motivator. Laimbeer got on well with his superstar player, forward A’ja Wilson, so Hammon will cultivate that relationship.
Hammon has already worked a bit with Ace players such as guard Kelsey Plum, whom she knew when Plum was a rookie in San Antonio in 2017 before the franchise moved to Las Vegas. Hammon has a lot to offer Aces guards from her own hands-on experience as a longtime perimeter player in the WNBA. But her years of NBA coaching also put her in a good position to guide Las Vegas’ inner strength.
What does this hiring mean for the Aces?
Laimbeer brought the franchise to the brink of a title. Former Aces general manager Dan Padover left in October to take on the role of general manager and executive vice president of the Atlanta Dream. Perhaps Laimbeer will take on the GM position, in which he has experience with his previous WNBA head coaching positions in Detroit and New York.
Owner Mark Davis, who bought the Aces in January, has already made several legwork with the franchise, including bringing in former LSU coach Nikki Fargas as team president and former player of WNBA Jennifer Azzi as Director of Business Development. He seems determined that the Aces will be a gold standard type franchise for the WNBA.
The Aces have one of the best young players in the league at Wilson, who was the 2020 MVP and is only 25 years old. She is currently a restricted free agent, and Center Liz Cambage is an unrestricted free agent.
Plum enjoyed the best season of his WNBA career last year. She, Jackie Young and Dearica Hamby have been consistent contributors in recent years for the Aces. Chelsea Gray was a good candidate as a free agent in 2021, just like Angel McCoughtry was in 2020. Hopefully McCoughtry, who has missed this season with a knee injury, is back in full force for 2022. Whether Cambage returns or not, Las Vegas should be a serious contender again.
What does this decision mean for Hammon’s NBA future?
Many speculated that Hammon was close to becoming NBA head coach, as she is in her eighth season as a Spurs assistant.
Now, while it seems less likely that Hammon will be the first woman to make this breakthrough, it’s unclear who or when it will be. If Hammon succeeds with Aces and wins a championship, maybe she’ll return to the NBA – and maybe always be the first woman to lead a team. Or maybe she doesn’t go back at all.
Laimbeer left the WNBA in the 2009 season, then was in the NBA as an assistant with the Timberwolves from 2009 to 2012. But Laimbeer said he thought he wouldn’t have the chance to be. head coach of the NBA, and he came back to the WNBA, along with New York.
It is very difficult to climb the coaching ladder in the NBA, and to put it bluntly, we can’t know for sure how many franchises gave Hammon a legitimate shot at winning a head coaching job, instead of interview him to check a box.
Maybe this move to Aces is a chance for her to prove herself in a different way. Or maybe that’s what’s good for her now. Either way, WNBA fans will be excited to see her again.
What this means for women coaches in the NBA remains to be seen. Commissioner Adam Silver has pushed the league to bring women into many different roles in the NBA, including as coaches, but it will still take a frankness to make a bold move to appoint a woman as a coach- chief.
Who are the favorites for the other two vacant WNBA head coach positions?
When Liberty’s post opened earlier this month – the franchise and Walt Hopkins went their separate ways – the idea was that perhaps this franchise could attract Hammon. And she interviewed the Liberty, according to sources.
The frontrunner for the New York job now could be former Phoenix coach Sandy Brondello, who also parted ways with the Mercury this month. As for Phoenix, Mercury’s assistant Chasity Melvin and Sparks assistant Latricia Trammell are in the mix, and Trammell has also been interviewed in New York, according to sources.