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Why hasn’t Becky Hammon been subbing for Gregg Popovich?

Tim Duncan is a good option, and there are reasons he’s been picked. But it’s still disappointing Hammon hasn’t subbed for Pop yet.

San Antonio Spurs v Charlotte Hornets Photo by Kent Smith/NBAE via Getty Images

Tim Duncan got his first win as a head coach on Tuesday night in a close 104-103 win for the San Antonio Spurs over the Charlotte Hornets. The team trailed by 17 points in the first quarter, but came rallying back behind Dejounte Murray’s 21 points. Gregg Popovich missed the game for “personal business,” according to the team.

The win was an important one for the Spurs, who are still trying to stay in the Western Conference playoff race. It was big for Duncan, too, who after just one half-season as an assistant coach, was able to pick up his first head coaching win. Duncan also replaced Popovich in the third quarter of a November game against the Trail Blazers, but the team lost, 121-116.

While fans were happy to see San Antonio’s beloved former superstar win as a head coach, it was still disappointing to see it was Duncan, and not six-year assistant coach Becky Hammon, as Popovich’s official replacement. Hammon is the first full-time female assistant coach in any of the four major men’s sports (NBA, MLB, NHL, NFL) ever, and would be the first head coach as well.

Why was Hammon passed up? While an official reason wasn’t given, the game against the Blazers from November could give us clues. Per the Wall Street Journal, a spokesman said Duncan got the nod because he was the assistant assigned to scouting Portland. “I’m not here to make history,” Popovich said then, when asked if he’d considered naming Hammon head coach.

While Duncan was the “acting head coach” in both instances, Hammon and the rest of the Spurs’ staff were still major contributors in Tuesday night’s win, according to Duncan. “It’s night and day to be in the big-boy chair,” Duncan said. “But truth be told, I wasn’t in the big-boy chair. We’ve got Becky [Hammon] and Will [Hardy] and Mitch [Johnson]. Mitch prepped the game for us. Becky and Will were making all the calls, and I was the only one just standing there screaming at people — nonsensical stuff.

“We did a coach by committee. It could’ve been any one of us out there and we would’ve done exactly the same stuff.”

Still, it’s frustrating that Hammon didn’t get the nod.

There are two, reasoned sides as to who should have been the acting head coach against the Hornets. One will say Popovich is trying to win basketball games, and he felt his team had the best chance to win if Duncan was the lead. And who’s to question Pop when it comes to basketball? Heck, the Spurs won!

But even if it was Duncan who scouted the Hornets (a team that sits 19 games below .500), hasn’t Hammon earned her seat for the Spurs? This year is Duncan’s and Johnson’s first season as assistants, and Hardy’s fourth. Hammon is in year six. She’s also been the team’s head coach in Summer League for three seasons, including a championship run in 2015. Hammon was also interviewed for the Bucks’ head coaching job in 2018. Duncan’s experience as a player is not the same as time spent as Pop’s understudy.

Handing the keys to Hammon isn’t just about making history. Hammon’s earned the chance to take over for Pop. She’s moved her way up the ranks like any other assistant, with even heavier expectations.

“I’ve played under two of the sharpest minds in the history of sports,” Pau Gasol wrote in a 2018 Players Tribune story, “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.”

Until Hammon lands a head coaching position, it appears she’ll have to wait until Pop’s absence lands on a night she’s scouted for.