With the NBA coaching carousel underway there are seven teams around the league that currently have openings. Among the familiar suite of assistants and former players exist several incredible women, all of whom have mastered their craft and are ready for an opportunity at the highest level of coaching. Becky Hammon, Dawn Staley, Kara Lawson, and Teresa Weatherspoon represent the closest women have come to coaching in the league, and it actually looks like this might happen.
The fascinating thing about this year is that rather than just bad teams needing new leadership, numerous playoff and bubble teams are hiring. The Blazers, Celtics, and Mavericks all made the playoffs this season, the Pacers and Wizards participated in the play-in tournament, with only the Magic and Pelicans truly being the “bad” teams of the bunch.
Hammon is a finalist in Portland. Staley has said she talked to the Blazers, and is preparing to lead the U.S. women’s basketball team into the Tokyo Olympics. Lawson is a possibility in Boston, with fans lobbying for her — not only could we see a woman take over an NBA team for the first time, but an elite team at that.
Teresa Weatherspoon could get a very real shot with the Pelicans too. Adding to the increasing list of women ready to take over NBA teams.
All of them are ready for this moment. Their resumes speak for themselves. Coaches with proven track records of success, established history of building programs, and endless players singing their praises. All proof these women suitable for the job, but still facing the glass ceiling. For all that Hammon, Staley, Lawson and Weatherspoon have achieved, they find themselves on the same standing as Chauncey Billups, who spent just one year as an assistant with the Clippers, or Steve Nash — who had no top-level coaching experience before being hired by the Nets.
A six-time WNBA All-Star, Hammon’s playing career spanned three countries, playing in the USA, Spain and Russia. An ACL tear cut her playing career short, but during recovery she kept herself close to the game of basketball by attending meetings and practices in San Antonio.
It was during this time the prospect of coaching began to appeal to Hammon more than returning to the court, and her mind for the game caught Gregg Popovich’s eye. Pop hired Hammon as an assistant, making her the second female assistant coach in NBA history. Since 2014 Hammon has been integral to the organization, with more responsibility being given to her each year. In 2016 she coached the Spurs to a Summer League title, and in late 2020 she became the first woman to coach an NBA game, taking over for Popovich after he was ejected.
In 2019 Pau Gasol wrote an open letter in the Players’ Tribune explaining his experience being coached by Hammon.
“I’ve played with some of the best players of this generation … and I’ve played under two of the sharpest minds in the history of sports, in Phil Jackson and Gregg Popovich. And I’m telling you: Becky Hammon can coach. I’m not saying she can coach pretty well. I’m not saying she can coach enough to get by. I’m not saying she can coach almost at the level of the NBA’s male coaches. I’m saying: Becky Hammon can coach NBA basketball. Period.”
Hammon represents the greatest chance for a woman to become a head coach. She has reportedly become a finalist for the job in Portland, poised to take over coaching Damian Lillard and a promising team in need of taking one more step to be a finals hopeful.
WNBA legend Dawn Staley, one of the greatest coaches in basketball, also deserves an opportunity. While she has no NBA experience, her hand for the last 13 years has completely revamped University of South Carolina basketball.
The Gamecocks made the NCAA tournament eight times from 1974-2014, and that all changed with Staley. It took a few years to find her footing in the program and get her recruiting classes spinning, but what followed was unprecedented success. The Gamecocks have made the NCAA tournament every year since 2012, winning five SEC championships, and a National Championship in 2017.
A newer name on the block, Kara Lawson has been mentioned in connection with the Celtics. Brad Stevens is leaving the court to become general manager, opening the door for a coach of another playoff team with plenty of potential for further growth.
Lawson was a broadcaster for ESPN then left the booth, becoming an assistant with the Celtics under Stevens in 2019, then leaving in 2020 to become head coach of Duke. A Covid-shortened season never gave her a chance to show he coaching chops in the NCAA, though the Blue Devils went out to a promising 3-1 start on the season.
Of the four Becky Hammon has real potential to finally get her shot in the NBA. It’s time, and now we wait to see if teams are smart enough to make the right choice.