Becky Hammon: NBA head-coaching pursuit hindered by working for only Spurs, never being head coach

Spurs assistant coach Becky Hammon and head coach Gregg Popovich
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For people eager to see a female NBA head coach, especially those who pinned their hopes on Spurs assistant Becky Hammon, Hammon leaving for the WNBA feels like a step back.

Only one WNBA head coach has become an NBA head coach. And former Los Angeles Sparks coach Michael Cooper was a former NBA player who became merely the Nuggets’ interim coach in 2004-05.

But head-coaching the Las Vegas Aces could make Hammon more attractive to NBA teams, she beleives.

Here is Hammon, via Doug Feinberg of the Associated Press:

“I sat in head coaching interviews (in the NBA) and people said two things: ‘You’ve only been in San Antonio and you’ve never been a head coach,’” she said. “NBA jobs are hard to get. In some ways, I feel like the NBA maybe is close. In other ways, I feel like they’re a long ways off from hiring (a woman head coach). I don’t know when it could happen.”

These feel like fairly assessed flaws in her resumé. Hammon would be a stronger candidate if she had more experience in other systems and as a head coach. As a head coach, Hammon would have to work outside the shadow of Gregg Popovich, who has put such a strong imprint on how the Spurs operate. Being in charge, at any level, is different than being an assistant. There’s value in having been the person who makes final decisions.

Ime Udoka (whom the Spurs hired as an assistant two years before they hired Hammon) got hired as Celtics head coach last year only after spending a couple seasons with the 76ers and Nets. Philadelphia hired Brett Brown as head coach in 2013 based on his experience both as a San Antonio assistant and head coach in Australia.

To be fair, the Hawks hired Mike Budenholzer in 2013 with a resumé nearly completely comprised of work as a Spurs assistant. But he spent far longer as a San Antonio assistant (17 years) and experienced far more success there (four championships) than Hammon. He also was head coach of two youth teams while playing professionally in Denmark in 1993-94, for whatever that’s worth.

From the Trail Blazers last year, Hammon seemingly drew more consideration than any woman ever has for an NBA head-coaching job. But she still finished second to Chauncey Billups, whose only coaching experience was last season as a Clippers assistant.

Every candidate is unique and should be judged individually. It should be about determining who has the most acumen for the job. Assessing prior work is one of the ways – but not the only – to determine someone’s acumen.

Hopefully, Hammon is being evaluated for only those traits, not sexist nonsense. Like everyone else – Hammon has strengths and weaknesses. If treated fairly, she is a viable NBA head-coaching candidate but not a no-brainer. Really, the only no-brainers are people who’ve had success doing the job before (all men so far).

So, Hammon – like anyone trying to break into one of only 30 NBA head-coaching jobs – must continue to strengthen her case. In Las Vegas, she has an opportunity to fill a couple of holes in her resumé. Will success with the Aces mean she absolutely deserves to become an NBA head coach? Not necessarily. Again, it’s about a complete picture.

But if she guides Las Vegas – as head coach, outside the Spurs – to success, she’d be that much harder to deny.