The Portland Trail Blazers are digging deep in their search for their next head coach. They are set to interview a pair of top-tier female candidates for consideration, San Antonio Spurs assistant Becky Hammon and University of South Carolina/USA Women’s Basketball head coach Dawn Staley, according to a tweet from The Athletic’s Shams Charania.
Sources: Among Portland Trail Blazers top head coaching candidates: Clippers assistant Chauncey Billups, Spurs assistant Becky Hammon, Univ. of South Carolina/USA women's coach Dawn Staley, Nets assistant Mike D’Antoni and Spurs executive Brent Barry.https://t.co/BSXe6jt45J
— Shams Charania (@ShamsCharania) June 12, 2021
It’s no surprise that Nets assistant Mike D’Antoni is on this list because he is a quality coach with proven success at the professional level. However, the remaining names are a bit of a surprise due to the somewhat refreshing nature of the search. Barry and Billups, both who have no head coaching experience, are veterans of the game who have a great understanding of the game and would be an interesting decision.
However, the two most captivating names on this list by any measure are Hammon and Staley. Hammon, who has been on the Spurs’ sideline for over seven seasons now, became the first woman to assume head coaching duties in an NBA game earlier this season after Gregg Popovich was ejected against the Los Angeles Lakers in December. She is highly respected among the organization and players around the league have praised her professionalism and knowledge of the game. Hammon, who was considered for the Milwaukee Bucks’ head coaching position back in 2018, is also interviewing for the Orlando Magic spot as well.
For Staley, this is the first time I have personally heard her name in talks for an NBA head coaching job. Truthfully speaking, I’m surprised for a pair of reasons: one, she should have been considered a while ago and two because it would be a shock if she made the choice to leave the University of South Carolina. Not only is she one of the most successful coaches in the school’s history (six SEC championships, three Final Fours and a national championship in 2017), but she is a gold-medal winning coach in the Olympics as well (2007 Pan Am Games as head coach, 2016 Rio De Janiero as assistant).
It is a bit of a surprise as well that neither Hammon or Staley have been looked at as head coaching candidates in the WNBA, considering their impact on the women’s game as a whole.
For Portland, however, they have to get this right. After being bounced in the first round of the playoffs for the fourth time in the last five seasons, star guard Damian Lillard posted a quote from the late rapper Nipsey Hussle that sent shockwaves through the league: “How long should I stay dedicated? How long til opportunity meet preparation?” – a clear sign that if Lillard doesn’t want to leave, the thought has at least begun to cross his mind. Shortly after the Blazers fired head coach Terry Stotts (which had been rumored all season whether the team made the playoffs or not), Lillard publicly vouched for Los Angeles Lakers assistant coach Jason Kidd before Kidd removed his name from contention.
Lillard, arguably the greatest player in the history of Portland sports, has been a loyal spokesman for the team since being drafted back in 2012, signing two massive extensions, the most recent keeping him in the Pacific Northwest through the 2024-25 season. But loyalty will only get you so far (ask Kevin Garnett and Russell Westbrook) and Portland, in all honesty, isn’t just the right head coach away from winning a championship. Like the two aforementioned players back in their heyday, Lillard plays in a market that is not conducive to bringing in star talent in their prime. For example, when Kevin Durant became a free agent, there was no way that Portland was going to be able to convince him to play up there even with Lillard playing like a total beast. You could make an argument that pairing those two along with C.J. McCollum makes the Trail Blazers a championship-quality team.
If you’re asking me personally, I do believe that netting either Hammon or Staley would be a great choice as the next head coach and I do believe that Lillard would be at least willing to give them a serious shot. However, this is a very sensitive situation here – one that the rest of the league is definitely watching as well. So Portland is walking on a tight rope with this search and can’t afford to make a false step.
Before joining The Ball Out, Chris Bullock was part of SB Nation’s Swish Appeal for nearly three years, covering everything women’s basketball. Chris has had the honor of doing live coverage of the WNBA Finals, the NCAA Tournament, and also was given his own column, “The Triple Double”. A self-described “foodaholic”, Chris lives in the San Diego area with his wife and two daughters, and also hosts his own podcast, “Conscious Cravings”, where he speaks about his experience as a mental health advocate.