Becky Hammon's resume speaks for itself. One of the greatest players of all time, no gender qualifiers needed, Hammon played 16 brilliant seasons in the WNBA where she was a six-time All-Star and a two-time all-WNBA player. She's retiring and wanted to coach. The Spurs had an opening and added her to Gregg Popovich's staff.
None of this is all that surprising. The Spurs are the most progressive team in the sport and that's ultimately what keeps them so good year after year.
Hammon is either the first or second female assistant in the NBA depending on how you choose to count these things. Lisa Boyer worked for the Cavs under John Lucas during the 2000-01 season as a voluntary assistant, but that's not a crucial element of the story. This is not a grand gesture, it's a job with the defending champs and Hammon joins a revamped staff that will also include Ettore Messina, one of the best coaches in Europe.
The Spurs' New Hire
The Spurs' New Hire
During the Finals it seemed like everyone was trying to figure out the secret formula. It takes great players, of course, and the Spurs know that all of their success is a by-product of luck.
"The key was getting Tim Duncan in the lottery," Spurs general manager R.C. Buford said during the Finals. "And that didn't have a damn thing to do with where we were scouting."
Lots of teams have been fortunate on draft night, but not all of them have been able to see that luck turn into championships. It's really hard to win it all without a signature player, but it's just as tough to win without complementary stars, role players and coaching. It's impossible to sustain that level of success without scouting and development.
Drafting international players is where the Spurs first emerged as an organization that was ahead of the curve. While other franchises were reluctant, the Spurs grabbed Tony Parker at the end of the 2001 first round and Manu Ginobili even later in the second round in 1999. They not only drafted those players, they developed them and ultimately allowed them to play their games.
That last bit is crucial because while we think of the Spurs as some kind of Hoosiers-esque throwback to old-timey values, they operate a free-flowing system that has allowed Parker to become one of the best at his position and Manu to be, well, Manu.
"I think the key has been, let's take advantage of the advantages that are available to us and not put any boundaries around where we can find basketball players," Buford continued. "Fortunately we have a coach who has not only a great appreciation for them as players, but as people and the contributions they've made to our culture."
Since then, Pop and Buford have been at the forefront of a number of different advancements. They embraced the three-pointer and completely changed the team's on-court persona by encouraging Parker to take control of the offense.
While other teams pay lip service to resting players during the year, the Spurs actually do it by not only managing their stars' minutes, but also giving their reserves playing time and responsibility. That's coaching from the top down and development from the bottom up where people like Chip Engelland and Chad Forcier work with players behind the scenes to get them ready.
"I don't know that there's balance," Buford said when I asked him about managing priorities during the season. "There's expectations and demands from the coaches and from Pop that happen and we're all expected to get on board and be a part of it. The values that are important to our organization and filtered, whether they be for staff or they be for coaches or for our players. Any person that we're going to bring into our own organization is going to pass that test first."
Nothing the Spurs do is by accident, so it's safe to say that Hammon passed that test last year after Popovich invited her to spend time with the team after a season-ending ACL injury.
"She wants to coach after she's done," Popovich said back in May. "Because she's not just a good player but a smart player, a great person in our community, just somebody that we all respect so much. We gave her the opportunity to sit with us during the year. She came to our coaches' meetings, argued with us. She did everything. She's been wonderful."