According to reports, and comments from the Grizzlies themselves, they will be evaluating the head coaching position at the end of the season. J.B. Bickerstaff has done a solid job considering the adversity he’s faced, and will hopefully get a fair shot at interviewing for the gig. But in case Memphis is open to, or perhaps even hell bent on, bringing on someone new, I have a purely speculative suggestion: a San Antonio Spurs assistant, but maybe not the one you’re thinking of -
The Memphis Grizzlies should seriously consider Becky Hammon to be their next head coach.
Reports are surfacing that Hammon is in the mix for the head coaching position for the men’s program at her alma mater, Colorado State. If that were to come to pass, she would be the first woman to lead a men’s program at the Division I level. This is remarkable historically speaking, but as the Pounding the Rock post puts it, and Spurs GM R.C. Buford does as well, it’s not as if the hire would be happening solely because she is a woman.
She deserves it.
She has experience working with arguably the NBA’s best coach, Gregg Popovich, on arguably the best staff, as part of the best organization in the NBA in the Spurs for several seasons now. She has been the head coach for San Antonio’s summer league team, taking the team to the 2015 summer league title. Playing career wise, she’s one of the greatest basketball players in WNBA history, and has her number retired in San Antonio. She is learning from one of the best to ever do it, has shown through working with men in a competitive setting as a head coach that she can have success, and has a background players can respect.
If she decides to go to the college ranks first to further strengthen her coaching resume, that would be an understandable move. Colorado State is friendly ground, after all, and in terms of breaking barriers that would be a solid place to do it where she’s already such an integral part of the school’s athletic history. It’s a perfect fit. But she’d be a fit for a head job, regardless of gender, just about anywhere at this stage of her career. She is a strong candidate.
The Grizzlies will face some tough questions as they open up their coaching search, as it will not be the most attractive job. The draft pick cupboard is bare and the talent currently on display for Memphis, aside from a Dillon Brooks here or a Kobi Simmons flash there, is limited. The key players on this team are aging (Marc Gasol), often injured (Mike Conley and Chandler Parsons), or at best a 50/50 shot to return in free agency (Tyreke Evans). When JaMychal Green is your current best combination of being in their prime, contributing in a meaningful way, and under contract next season, there are problems.
Then there’s the issue of David Fizdale, who was let go earlier this season after a public spat with Marc Gasol. While Fizdale’s relationship with Gasol isn’t the only reason he was dismissed, it is easily the reason folks remember most. That stands out in someone’s mind when applying for a job - will I have a real opportunity to apply my schemes and beliefs? Or will I be let go in favor of an aging franchise player?
These are all fair questions, and whoever the next head coach is will need time and freedom to build as they see fit. It’s possible, maybe probable, they won’t get that. But with coaches looking to get their first NBA head job, someone will be willing to take the risk with the Grizzlies. Perhaps Hammon would be open to doing just that in a place ripe with younger talent that needs development.
As the ownership situation resolves itself in the coming months, the coaching search will stabilize. Bickerstaff has earned a shot to run this team in the eyes of many, but questions remain after his run with Houston and the current struggles of the (admittedly broken) Grizzlies roster. Other Spurs assistants, like James Borrego and Ettore Messina, have been discussed as names ready to make the leap to head coaching jobs soon out from the Popovich coaching tree. Jerry Stackhouse (Head Coach of the Raptors’ G-League team) brings a player’s pedigree, and there are other assistants around the league that would make sense as well.
But Hammon makes a lot of sense, for a variety of reasons. She’s talented. She has a good resume already, even though it’s still early in her coaching career. She was a great player, and in an era when women are rightfully being given more and more opportunities, she would be a breath of fresh air for an organization seemingly in chaos. All she needs is an opportunity to break down the barrier, not because she is a woman and it would be good publicity...
But because she’s possibly the right coach for the job.