Tag Archives: coaching

Why female NBA fans–and everyone else–should be excited about Becky Hammon

Screen Shot 2014-08-06 at 10.03.35 PMWhen I woke up yesterday morning and saw the news that the San Antonio Spurs hired Becky Hammon, a woman, as their assistant head coach, I immediately called my Dad to let him know of the great news. As a female former high school basketball player and someone who knows enough about the sport to hold my own, I felt empowered to be reading about such an exciting step forward in the NBA. In a sport so heavily dominated by male staff, management, ownership, and where the NBA is undoubtedly more popular than the WNBA, it is pretty exciting to finally have a female play such an important role for the defending national champions. I am very excited to follow the Spurs this year and see how well their new assistant coach does. As someone who used to play sports, I can’t help but think about the amazing impact this history will have on all younger female athletes around the nation.

Another element of this story, however, is how much emphasis people put on the fact that she is a female. Yes, the reason this is “history in the making” is because she will be the first full-time female assistant coach the NBA has ever seen. However, she was not hired just because she is a female. She was hired because she is just as qualified as any other person who could have had the position. Head coach Greg Popovich, owner Peter Holt, and the rest of the San Antonio Spurs organization would not have hired Becky Hammon if she was not qualified, so it is very important that she be recognized for her qualifications and not just her gender.

Overall the Spurs did a pretty incredible thing by helping make history today and hiring a qualified and exciting person to fill the spot of the San Antonio Spurs assistant head coach. This is an exciting move for the defending champions and I look forward to seeing how they do this season.

Irreconcilable Differences

When I was a junior in high school, I was appointed to the super prestigious position of executive board member of student council. My job was to lead a committee and participate in other exec board activities. I was kind of bummed out when the committee I was assigned to run was the one that met on Monday nights after school, the committee whose only job was to hang up posters advertising school events. I was also unhappy to learn that, starting that semester, all executive board members were being forced to take an extra leadership class that met before school and during lunch. I am proud to tell you that the posters in the halls that semester had never looked better, and likely never will. But I’m a bit embarrassed to tell you that I mouthed off to the teachers in charge of student council quite a bit, not taking the leadership course seriously at all and generally goofing off as much as I could. After just one semester, I was kicked off of executive board.

I could not help but recall that semester of poor behavior while reading and hearing about Lionel Hollins and his status as coach of the Memphis Grizzlies. Hollins has had great success in Memphis since taking over the team in 2009. Each year has seen an increase in the team’s winning percentage from the year before, a trend any organization would normally be thrilled about.

But the immediate results are not necessarily the concern of the new ownership and management group of the Grizzlies. New CEO and president Jason Levien has a specific vision for how the team’s roster should be shaped, how its salary cap should be managed, and, most importantly when it comes to the future of Hollins in Memphis, how the team should play on the floor. Levien is a believer in the new wave of statistical analysis that is sweeping through the league. In his first major decision as president of the club, Levien hired longtime ESPN scribe and inventor of PER John Hollinger as the Memphis’ VP of Basketball Operations. This move marked a historical landmark in basketball, as it announced to the league that the Grizzlies would be thinking about the game in different terms than in the past. While not a revolutionary hire, as Houston GM Daryl Morey seems to have claimed the title of Billy Beane of basketball, it was a fascinating development (On a personal side note, this hire was very disappointing for me as Hollinger’s snarky and hilarious Twitter account, one of my favorites in the league, has become significantly less snarky and hilarious since his hire).

This shift in the front office must have made Hollins feel threatened. For reasons that cannot be explained, Hollins seems very reluctant to embrace what will inevitably become the future of basketball strategy, instead going out of his way to insult his new bosses in a radio interview where he criticized analytics in basketball.

The source of frustration for Hollins stemmed from the Rudy Gay trade, the polarizing decision of new management to trade away the Grizzlies’ starting small forward and leading scorer for what amounted to spare parts and salary cap flexibility. Although advanced statistics (and unadvanced statistics, unless you’re particularly confused by things like three point percentage) pointed to Gay as being an inefficient and wildly overpaid player, Hollins believed he added value to the team in ways that did not show up in one of Hollinger’s logarithms. This clash of opinions marked the beginning of the end of Hollins’s run in Memphis, or so I initially believed.

Following the trade, though, the team continued on with their  successful 2013 campaign. The Grizzlies, who had previously relied heavily upon isolation drives and long jumpers from Gay, allowed their offense to run through Marc Gasol and the high post at a much higher rate. The trade also allowed up-and-coming point guard Mike Conley to take over games at times when he would have normally deferred to Gay. The new-look Grizzlies were able to make their way through a difficult first two rounds of the Western Conference playoffs before eventually being swept at the hands of the Spurs.

I thought that the run to the conference finals, despite being greatly aided by the Russell Westbrook injury, would be enough for Hollins to secure a new contract with the team that so clearly appreciated his leadership style. The current roster includes several players who are signed through the next two to three years, including Gasol, Conley and reclamation project Zach Randolph. The development of these players and their vocal support for their coach seemed like strong reasons to believe that the team and coach would be able to kiss and make up following Hollins running his mouth to the media. Clearly I was wrong.

The Grizzlies and Hollins failed to make any significant progress in their offseason contract negotiations, with  the major hangup being neither years nor dollars but rather major philosophical issues of running the team. Hollins is a rough and tough old-school dude who takes shit from nobody, especially dorky math nerds. Unfortunately, dorky math nerds control his employment status in the city of Memphis. Hollins is likely to land another job. Reports have already begun that he is being pursued by Donald (Duck?) Sterling and the Clippers, an organization so backwards they probably are still deciphering what Hollinger is even talking about.

But how will this decision impact the future of the Grizzlies? Early indications are that Memphis is looking to promote internally, with an eye on Dave Joerger, who has been credited with building the defense that ranked second in the league overall. But will Joerger be able to reach the players in the same way that Hollins was? Will the players lose faith in the organization that cast aside the coach they clearly loved to play for?

For Levien, Hollinger and company, it is a meticulously calculated risk. Such is the new way of business in Memphis.