The Toronto Raptors have started their search for the next head coach, and the names of preliminary candidates were released yesterday by ESPN reporter Adrian Wojnarowski. After releasing Nick Nurse of his duties last week, Raptors President Masai Ujiri told the media that the front office plans to take their time vetting potential replacements in hopes of naming someone before the 2023 NBA Draft in June.
The Toronto head coaching position is a unique opening in the NBA. Candidates usually have to relocate countries to come take on the position, and despite being called a “small market” by other NBA communities, this market actually services a whole country as opposed to just a city or a state. There is a different kind of culture here in Toronto, whether you see that as a positive or negative. The fans are passionate, and organization takes its identity quite seriously. Which is why Ujiri noted that he is looking for a head coach who would contribute to that culture.
As they usually do when looking to fill a coaching spot, the team released a “short list” of candidates they will be interviewing for the role. This included current Raptors assistant coach Adrian Griffin, and several other assistant coaches and ex-NBA coaches around the community. One name that came up has been tossed around in several of these head coaching vacancies over the past few years — Becky Hammon.
The Raptors have secured permission to speak to Las Vegas Aces coach Becky Hammon.— ESPN (@espn) April 28, 2023
The team's head-coaching search is expected to be broad in scope and include a robust initial wave of candidates ➡️ https://t.co/ITvVAWUiqA pic.twitter.com/tvbKca7fSS
The average fan in Toronto may not be familiar with Becky Hammon, her legacy as a basketball player, and the impact her hiring would make not only on the Toronto Raptors community but to the NBA culture as a whole. While it may be a long shot for her to be offered and even accept the Raptors head coaching position — she already has a head coaching job with a team poised to win a second championship in a row in the coming months — it’s truly time for a woman to be given a real shot coaching in the NBA. The Toronto Raptors and Becky Hammon both seem like a great fit to make it happen.
For the purposes of this discussion, let’s ignore the main barrier to Hammon being hired by the Raptors — she is currently the head coach of the Las Vegas Aces in the WNBA. After accepting their open head coaching role prior to the 2022 WNBA season, Hammon went on to not only win Coach of the Year but also lead the Aces to their first WNBA championship in dominant fashion, winning a Commissioner’s Cup title along the way, just for fun. The main question people familiar with the situation may ask is — why would she leave a team poised to win back to back championships to come coach a team currently in development, who didn’t even make the playoffs this season? Ultimately that’s for her decide, but I’d be remiss — as one of the only women who writes on the Raptors’ beat, AND one of the only people truly familiar with Becky Hammon as a coach and player — if I didn’t take this opportunity to share why I think Hammon and the Raptors would be a good fit for each other.
Not to make it overly personal, but I’m not just saying this because I am a woman and she is a woman. Of course I want women to succeed. Of course I think there should be more women in the Raptors space, in the NBA space, in the sports space. Yet, I think people immediately cast coaches like Becky aside because they don’t think women can “control a men’s locker room,” and that dangerous rhetoric is why we need to keep pushing for someone to come in and prove them wrong. We could speak about the sexism in NBA culture all day, but I’d like to focus on why Becky Hammon (regardless of what her gender identity is) would make a great head coach for the Toronto Raptors.
We all know for a fact that Hammon has no interest in becoming “the first woman NBA head coach” for the accolades and the attention of the achievement. That’s not who she is. Yet, what people don’t understand is that IF the NBA were to make history by hiring a woman, Becky Hammon is just the kind of woman you’d want leading your team.
Becky Hammon played collegiate basketball for the Colorado State Rams before going undrafted in the 1999 WNBA draft (sound familiar?) but was ultimately signed by the New York Liberty. She went on to be a six-time WNBA All-Star, playing for the Liberty and then the San Antonio Stars (now the Las Vegas Aces) receiving the nickname “Big Shot Becky” due to her shot making ability. She’s an Olympic Bronze Medalist with the Russian national team who she competed with in 2008. Her number 25 jersey is retired with the San Antonio Stars/Las Vegas Aces.
After retiring as a player, Hammon decided to pursue coaching. In 2014, she joined Gregg Popovich’s staff as an assistant coach, a job she kept for eight seasons. During the later years of her tenure in San Antonio, she was considered for multiple head coaching positions around the league, never making it out of the interviews for any. Speculation ran about whether she was just receiving these interviews because she was a woman and these teams wanted to seem progressive. When asked, she has noted many times that she wants to be hired as a head coach because she is the right person for the job, and not because a team wants to “make history.”
So in 2022 when the Las Vegas Aces needed a head coach, there was Hammon, and the fit made sense. She signed an unprecedented contract in the WNBA, making 1 million dollars a year. She effortlessly gained the trust of her players, dominated the court with her schemes and in-game adjustments, and led the Aces to glory — and is currently expected to do it all again in just a few weeks as the WNBA season picks up.
If you take away the fact that she is a woman — a fact that many NBA fans think should immediately eliminate her from contention — Becky Hammon checks all of the right boxes for the Raptors head coaching vacancy. She has winning experience, she trained under the legendary Popovich, she was a player herself, her mid-game adjustments as a head coach were impressive last WNBA season (a note that was brought up as a sore spot for Toronto this year). She has experience with Jakob Poeltl (who will be a big piece for the Raptors next year, presumably), a reputation as a coach who focuses on player development — obviously something the Raptors need.
She also has the kind of personality that could command an NBA locker room. She exudes swagger, confidence, and basketball IQ. Her presence immediately garners respect, and having the base familiarity with the current Raptors roster (keeping in mind it may change), they seem like the kind of players who would take direction from her with ease.
If anyone in the NBA is going to take the plunge with the first woman NBA head coach in league history — the Toronto Raptors are it. Masai Ujiri seems like the kind of president who would make the offer to Hammon if he really felt she was the right fit. He could also “throw her the bag” so to speak, and money talks. When you think of NBA markets (though there will always be misogynists and trolls anywhere), the Toronto Raptors community seems like one who could embrace Hammon. Think about it, she already has that “Bet on Yourself” mentality, a similar upbringing in her basketball career as Fred VanVleet, and a fighting spirit that is the kind of breath of fresh air this franchise definitely needs.
Masai Ujiri spoke last week about his desire to inject some energy back into the Toronto Raptors franchise, and if she wants to, Hammon could bring some new life and a killer hoodie/blazer combo to the Raptors bench. The Raptors aren’t in the business of hiring someone just to make headlines, so trust that if she gets far in this process, it’s because they truly believe in her ability to bring winning basketball back to the Toronto Raptors. If she isn’t the right fit, it will not be because she is a woman.
She very well may be offered and say no — but hey maybe she decides to say yes — and making a little history along the way wouldn’t be a bad thing either.