Becky Hammon to Las Vegas Aces – WNBA’s gain is NBA’s loss

Photo Credit -- Bahram Mark Sobhani/AP

What does the WNBA continue to prove to us time and time and time again – if the waters are too tranquil, it is only a matter of time before some major news is about to drop.

Cue up the evening of December 30 into the early morning of December 31 – when a bombshell report out of Chantel Jennings and Shams Charania of The Athletic indicated that the Las Vegas Aces were closing in on a deal that would make Becky Hammon, named one of the W’s 25 greatest of all time this past season, and current assistant coach under Gregg Popovich at the San Antonio Spurs, the new head coach of the Las Vegas Aces.

Hammon of course has Aces connections as she previously played for the organization when they were the San Antonio (Silver) Stars from 2007-14. An earlier report indicated that she was being courted by both the Aces as well as the New York Liberty for its head coaching position. Hammon sported Liberty colors from 1999-2006. The Libs’ find for a new coach continues following its parting of ways with Walt Hopkins after two seasons.

What is significant about The Athletic’s report is not only the move itself, but the parameters. Hammon would reportedly be inking a 5-year deal with Las Vegas that would make her the highest paid coach in W history. When an owner has money the way Mark Davis has money, a team can offer whatever it takes to “Just Win, Baby.”

After all, this is the same Davis that is working on building a state-of-the-art Aces training facility in the Las Vegas suburb of Henderson. Rememberr when Minnesota Lynx head coach Cheryl Reeve said that she believes the Lynx have the best facilities in the W? And remember when the Liberty said “Hold my Stella Rosa” by unveiling its updated digs at Barclays Center? Davis is telling both Minnesota and New York to hold his Michelob Ultra.

Khristina Williams of Girls Talk Sports TV is also reporting that Bill Laimbeer, who has been the Aces coach ever since the move from San Antonio in 2018, will remain in a “consulting” position – which is not exactly a general manager job. Hammon will also assume general manager duties.

There is a very real reason as to why Hammon will be the next coach of the Aces. Because she wanted to make history as the first-ever woman to become a head coach in the NBA, a league that loves to boast and brag about how progressive and forward-thinking it is, and no NBA team took that chance at history that was staring them right in front of their faces.

Look at the Portand Trail Blazers. After all, that team hired as its coach someone who has sexual assault allegations against him in Chauncey Billups. And there were even rumors that the Billups hired ticked off Damian Lillard to where he may wanted to leave Portland – even though now we know he is not leaving the Trail Blazers.

Hammon would have more than likely made history if she would have simply stuck it out with the Spurs under Popovich until he calls it a career – a moment that draws ever so closer by the day and the season. After all, the progressive Coach Pop has publicly called out other NBA teams for their unwillingness to give Hammon a shot.

Popovich could retire today – and breeze his way into Springfield, Massachusetts at the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame. After all, he has won five championships at the helm in San Antonio and has coached some of the greatest to ever play in the NBA – including David Robinson, Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili, Robert Horry and Kawhi Leonard.

Not to mention, Hammon once coached the Spurs to a championship in the NBA Summer League.

When the WNBA’s offseason first began, everyone looked to the Indiana Fever as the team most likely to make a coaching change. After all, Marianne Stanley following in Chatman’s stead has not worked out so well so far in the Hoosier State after winning six games in the bubble and another six last season. No one thought coaching news would come from an Aces team that is still contending for a championship, a Mercury team that qualified for the Finals last season and a Liberty team that earned its first berth to the postseason since 2017.

The initial report about Hammon being courted by Las Vegas and New York, ironically the teams who have arguably the deepest pocketed owners in the entire WNBA as Myles Ehrlich of Winsidr and NetsRepublic pointed out, indicated that Phoenix was dangerously close to settling on its coach. Its candidates include Chatman and Sparks assistant Latricia Trammell.

As for the Liberty, the Tsais, Keia Clarke, Jonathan Kolb and company also appear to be in on the Trammell sweepstakes. Other names bandied about for that opening include ex-Mercury coach Sandy Brondello and all-time Lib legend Teresa Weatherspoon.

That it does – a very important door may have been opened as a result of this move.

Hammon will be returning to the WNBA next season as a head coach – and will be returning with the wealth of riches, both figuratively and literally that is the Aces. Her assuming the duties of both coach and general manager means it will be tantamount for her to convince its big three to come back to Las Vegas to give it another try at a championship.

Angel McCoughtry and Liz Cambage are both free agents and A’ja Wilson is a restricted free agent given she is coming off her 3-year rookie contract. The Aces keep them together, look out rest of the WNBA. According to Her Hoop Stats, the Aces will have roughly $725,000 in cap space for 2022. Only the Seattle Storm ($986,236), Chicago Sky ($908,215) and Atlanta Dream ($836,241) currently have more cap room with the start of free agency a month away. Plus, Davis has already shown he is willing to put in whatever money is needed to ensure the Aces remain the winner they have been since saying farewell to Texas and hello to Nevada four seasons ago.

The air also must be cleared for anyone who thinks this is a demotion because of the way Hammon was slighted by these NBA teams – it is no demotion. Coaching in the WNBA is by no means a step below the NBA. That idea is grounded in complete sexism and anyone peddling that ideas knows it. If anything, it is a promotion – going from assistant to head coach and an opportunity to prove to so many know-it-all NBA front offices that they thought they were getting one over by denying a job to a more-than-qualified woman.

Winning a championship with the Aces would have meant every bit as winning a championship with the Spurs. In fact, it may mean more because of the significance of Las Vegas winning a professional sports championship. It would have been significant as well with the Spurs, but it is a been there, done that situation given the Spurs have five rings.

The NBA will now have to hope in the next few seasons that Sue Bird or Diana Taurasi decide to retire and make the jump to the coaching ranks so their names too can be used for a glowing public relations look. In the last few seasons, it appeared that NBA teams such as the Trail Blazers, Indiana Pacers (Rick Carlisle) and New York Knicks (Tom Thibodeau) were using Hammon’s name for positive public relations in regards to their coaching searches as opposed to being serious about hiring Hammon. In addition, what is the Spurs’ long-term plan after Coach Pop retires? If it will not be Hammon, one wonders what the future is for that franchise that is no longer exactly living its glory days of the late 1990s and throughout the 2000s.

NBA teams had basically invented their own “Hammon Rule” that might as well been modeled off the NFL’s Rooney Rule. Instead, Hammon went where she was appreciated, celebrated, and not slighted – ironically to the NBA’s little sister that is now, by all means, a big sis.

And just as she was celebrated in the W as a player, she will definitely be celebrated as a coach – especially in a city that has already embraced the Aces as much as Las Vegas and Nevada as a whole has.

As for Laimbeer, who knows if this is the end of his career in the WNBA – or if he weasels his way through the back door into another job such as the Mercury or back with the Liberty. One thing is for sure – the Aces are setting up Hammon for success from the team, to the players, to the money. And it will be a major flex if Hammon can say that she brought Las Vegas its first professional championship … and in WNBA circles, doing it with another coach’s players when that coach could not get the job done.

This is also a move that raises the value of WNBA coaches across the board. Now that Hammon is raising the price, whoever the Mercury and Liberty decide to bring at the helm of their teams need to show their next coach, especially if/when that next coach is a woman (and especially if/when that next coach is a Black woman) the respect she deserves. Hammon just raised the price for everyone not just her.

NBA teams will rue the day they decided to hire nobodies as coaches and not give Hammon her fair shot. While Hammon will likely say herself that getting slighted for NBA job after NBA job was what it was, our guess is that NBA teams will see that they committed a cardinal sin by allowing a rising star woman head coach to simply walk to Sin City.

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