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The Phoenix Suns are a complete disaster, the epitome of dysfunction. The team that opened the 2017–18 NBA season losing to the Portland Trailblazers by 48 points, scoring only 76. In their first three games, Phoenix has allowed a total of 386 points; that’s not a typo. And to top it all off, the Suns fired their head coach, Earl Watson. Yes, folks, the Phoenix Suns fired their inexperienced head coach who signed a three-year contract after a poor record as an interim coach, and then an even worse record last season. Again, the epitome of dysfunction.
This isn’t to say that Watson was a good NBA head coach, he wasn’t. More than anything else, he needed more learning the nuances and intricacies of NBA coaching by spending more time as an assistant. However, when you’re thrown into the Sonoran Desert without the tools to survive, what type of results can one expect? It wasn’t Earl Watson who deconstructed a 48-win Suns team who just barely missed the playoffs. Earl Watson didn’t sign an injury-prone 33-year-old Tyson Chandler to a four-year $52 million contract after drafting Alex Len two seasons earlier. Watson didn’t trade Isaiah Thomas for a bag of basketballs a year after signing him when the Suns already had Goran Dragic and Eric Bledsoe on the roster. I could keep going, including more things like wasting Eric Bledsoe’s prime, but I’m certain I’ve brought up horrible memories for many Suns fans.
The systematic failings of the Phoenix Suns don’t appear to end anytime soon. They won’t stop until Robert Sarver sells the team. Will that happen? Probably not. If it does become a reality, when will Sarver sell the team? Only time will time. No matter if you’re in the basketball business or own a local coffee shop, dysfunction starts at the top. If you have a crappy owner, CEO, manager, etc., your business is going to fail. It’s that simple.
So, if the Suns are essentially doomed until Robert Sarver sells the franchise, what’s the best route for them to take? Who should Phoenix hire to fill their coaching vacancy? The Suns’ associate head coach Jay Triano will take over as interim coach, per ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski. Whether or not the Suns look to hire an outside candidate, similar to what the Nuggets and Kings did with George Karl, Phoenix needs a long-term solution for a head coach. Jay Triano may very well be that guy, but Phoenix is a unique position to make history. They should strongly consider Becky Hammon.
If you have listened, watched, or read anything on Hammon, you already know that she is more than qualified to coach. She’s been an assistant coach with the San Antonio Spurs since 2014. She has earned the trust of Gregg Popovich and the Spurs players in that Hammon is doing scouting, in all the film sessions, winning the 2015 Summer League as Spurs’ head coach, and winning 2017 preseason games. Having the support of both Popovich and the players, in conjunction with being an elite WNBA point guard during her playing career, is a strong indicator of Hammon having a strong knowledge of the game of basketball.
Pro sports is the closest meritocracy in American society. If you’re skilled, talented, or knowledgeable enough to either play or coach, there is a place for you. Despite being a “boy’s club,” if you’re a woman and you know basketball, help players improve their game and earn the respect of your peers, people are going to listen to you. Individuals who follow the NBA closely do not question Hammons’ knowledge whatsoever. You can even see the beginnings of a coaching career in the video below where Hammon speaks with Dorris Burke — another woman who excels in the “boy’s club” of basketball analysis — about free throw shooting.
Andre Roberson and Markelle Fultz, if you’re reading this article, I strongly suggest you watch this video. It was quite informative. Those little, overlooked aspects like placing the top of your middle finger on the air hole of a basketball to create length and balance with your free throw form are critical to a player’s success — and Hammon has these coaching anecdotes.
“She’s right in the middle and she knows how to do it and our players really respond to her,” Popovich told NBA TV last season. “She’s just a natural.” He would go on to shower Hammon with even higher praise, “She talks the game. She understands the game. So for all those reasons, you really know she’s got that same sort of Avery Johnson, Steve Kerr, [Mike] Budenholzer-type thing.” Steve Kerr and Mike Budenholzer? That’s damn good company. Hell, even Avery Johnson won an NBA title as a head coach.
The “Gregg Popovich Coaching Tree” is rather impressive, which is why Phoenix should also strongly consider Hammon. The Atlanta Hawks won a franchise record 60 wins under long-time Spurs assistant Mike Budenholzer. And despite the relative lack of success following the 2014–15 season, the Hawks are rapidly developing a system and no one questions Budenholzer’s coaching; they are in good hands. The Sixers have stuck with Brett Brown through the Process years mainly because those Sixers teams always competed. It took a number of years but now Brown and the Sixers have some talent to work with. Plus, you cannot overlook the development of Robert Covington and TJ McConnell either.
Mike Brown was one of the early Popovich assistants to get a head coaching job and saw success with the Cavaliers. However, we then run into the potential issue of LeBron James being on those teams as well as the Los Angeles Lakers’ players having issues with Brown when he was brought in to replace Phil Jackson. It’s tough following legends, especially when the players want to run said legend’s Triangle Offense and you’re not a Triangle coach. Brown has his issues and limitations, but he was a successful head coach. He wasn’t Jacque Vaughn, who is currently the clear-cut failure of the Popovich tree.
Speaking of Vaughn, his tenure with the Orlando Magic may serve as a cautionary tale of what could happen to Hammon. Vaughan was a Spurs assistant for two years before Orlando hired him. He was a young, relatively inexperienced coach taking over a dysfunctional franchise with some young, intriguing prospects, but not any player as a legitimate franchise player? To be fair, Devin Booker is a legitimate young prospect, better than any the Magic have had since the Dwight Howard trade. But this does sound eerily similar to current Phoenix situation.
Though the roster isn’t flush with promising young players, Phoenix does have malleable prospects for a coach to work with. The aforementioned Booker is an offensive dynamo, but terrible defensively. Josh Jackson is a promising two-way rookie, but we need at least two seasons of development before we can truly figure out what type of player he can be. Marquese Chriss and Dragan Bender are intriguing, but they are both still so young and could fall through the cracks due to the Suns’ dysfunction. The same can be said for Booker and Jackson, but it’s more pressing with fridge prospects. This Phoenix team needs structure desperately and Hammon could provide it. She would need to be given a legitimate chance to grow and develop something. Bailing on the first sign of trouble like the Suns did with Watson is the wrong approach, especially with such a young team.
Whether it’s the Phoenix Suns or another NBA team, some franchise will give Becky Hammon a shot. Of all the sports leagues in the United States, the NBA is the most progressive on social issues. Popovich gave Hammon a hammer to shatter this glass ceiling and she will leave shards in her wake. The question is which team is willing to do so? It may be in Hammons best interest to gain some more experience and wait for a position to open up with a non-dysfunctional franchise. There is a good chance she fails and she may never get another shot at coaching again. This hypothetical failure may even provide excuses from teams to not hire women again, which completely retards the progress that’s occurring now.
With that said, there is a very noticeable counter-argument. The very same dysfunction argument that could harm Hammon can also be a huge benefit in her favor. If Hammon fails, it’s another example of the Suns’ dysfunction ruining another coach, just like they did Jeff Hornacek; it wouldn’t be Hammon’s fault. If she turns the franchise and the young players develop under her stewardship, Hammon is seen as a triumphant hero who cut through the dysfunction, turning the organization around. There are only 30 NBA head coaching jobs and if you can secure one, it’s worth taking the risk.
If the Phoenix Suns ever want to turn this around, ownership needs to hire smart, young, innovate basketball minds and allow them to do their jobs without meddling. Becky Hammon fits that description like a glove. I have my doubts that Sarver has the guts to make this hire (which is the correct hire) or the restraint to not interfere, as well as Hammon wanting her first head coaching stint to be with a mess of an organization. I also believe that the Suns would find a way to botch this scenario if they did hire her. However, Becky Hammon is a damn fine coach and she’s worth the risk. The Suns would be lucky and honored if she took the job.