WNBA legend Becky Hammon is returning to the league to become the head coach of the Las Vegas Aces, the team announced. Multiple teams had made offers to lure Hammon away from the NBA, where she's been an assistant coach with the San Antonio Spurs since 2014.
"We're very excited to have Becky return to the Aces' franchise as our head coach," Aces president Nikki Fargas said. "Her success in the sport of basketball as both a player and a coach is unparalleled, and fueled by a tenacious desire to be the best she can possibly be. We have one of the most talented rosters in the WNBA, and Becky is the absolute best person to lead this team."
Hammon is expected to finish the NBA season with the Spurs. Their final regular-season game is set for April 10, and they are currently in 10th place in the Western Conference, which means a deep playoff run is unlikely. It's possible that Hammon could miss a portion of training camp with the Aces, but she should be done with her NBA responsibilities well before WNBA opening day on May 6.
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It is not surprising that Hammon has finally become a head coach -- she's been up for multiple NBA jobs over the past few years, and was reportedly a finalist for the Portland Trail Blazers' gig last summer -- but no one expected her to take over in Vegas. First and foremost, there wasn't a vacancy. Bill Laimbeer had been the head coach of the Aces since 2018, and there were no expectations he was going to leave. (He could now reportedly take a front-office position with the club.)
In addition, there were multiple WNBA teams still looking for a new coach this offseason, including the New York Liberty. Hammon spent the first eight seasons of her playing career with the Liberty, making three All-Star Games and one All-WNBA Team as she helped the team to three Finals appearances.
The Aces, though, decided to make a push for Hammon and were able to get the deal over the finish line by offering a five-year contract that will make her the highest-paid coach in the WNBA, per ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski. Hammon, who did play for the Aces franchise when they were the San Antonio Silver Stars, will also get a chance to coach one of the most talented rosters in the league.
A'ja Wilson, the 2020 MVP and one of the league's best young playes, is a restricted free agent, but she'll surely be back. As will veteran point guard Chelsea Gray, reigning Sixth Player of the Year Kelsey Plum, two-time Sixth Player of the Year Dearica Hamby and former No. 1 overall pick Jackie Young. The Aces will also have big decisions to make about free agents Liz Cambage, Angel McCoughtry and Riquna Williams.
But regardless of what they do about the latter three, the Aces will enter 2022 with high expectations. They've made it to at least the semifinals three seasons in a row, but have just one Finals appearance and zero trophies to show for it. Hammon will hope she's the coach who can help them break through and claim the first championship in franchise history.
Along with the personnel decisions Hammon and Co. make this winter, it will be fascinating to see what sort of play style she implements. There have been plenty of complaints about Laimbeer's old-school, inside-out style that had the Aces looking more like his 1990s "Bad Boys" Detroit Pistons than a modern offense. The Aces were last in the league in 3-point attempts in all four of Laimbeer's seasons, and they often struggled to score in the playoffs when the competition improved.
Hammon was a high-volume 3-point shooter in her day and has just spent nearly a decade learning from Gregg Popovich in San Antonio. It's easy to envision a future where the Aces let Cambage walk in free agency and build a more perimeter-based offense that emphasizes ball movement, highlights Gray and Plum and utilizes Wilson as the lone big.