10 NBA coaching candidates to watch, including Becky Hammon, John Calipari

·9 min read

With seven open head-coaching positions currently in the NBA, there are plenty of qualified candidates on NBA benches and in the college ranks. 

A few names have circulated recently in connection to the Portland Trail Blazers, Boston Celtics, Orlando Magic, Indiana Pacers, New Orleans Pelicans, Washington Wizards and Dallas Mavericks gigs, including San Antonio Spurs assistant Becky Hammon and Los Angeles Lakers assistant Jason Kidd.

Here's a list of 10 candidates to keep an eye on during this cycle, including Kentucky head coach John Calipari, who one executive told Yahoo Sports "is much different than his first go-round but that ego is hard to tame."

Becky Hammon, San Antonio Spurs assistant

A six-time WNBA All-Star, Hammon is one of the greatest point guards in women's basketball history. When she tore her ACL as a 36-year-old on the San Antonio Stars in 2013, Hammon sat in on Spurs practices and coaches meetings, ultimately securing a job as an assistant on Gregg Popovich's staff a year later.

She has risen in the ranks ever since, coaching the Spurs' summer league outfit to a title in 2015, earning a promotion to lead assistant in 2018 and stepping into Popovich's shoes for a game following his ejection in December. Hammon has interviewed for head-coaching positions with the Milwaukee Bucks and Indiana Pacers, and it has been two years since Pau Gasol wrote for The Players' Tribune, "I’m not saying she can coach almost at the level of the NBA’s male coaches. Becky Hammon can coach NBA basketball. Period."

San Antonio Spurs assistant coach Becky Hammon. (Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images)
San Antonio Spurs assistant coach Becky Hammon. (Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images)

Sam Cassell, Philadelphia 76ers assistant

The one-time All-Star bookended his 15-year NBA career with championships as a rookie on Hakeem Olajuwon's Houston Rockets and a reserve point guard on the 2008 Boston Celtics. A beloved teammate and leader, Cassell joined his former coach Flip Saunders' staff on the Washington Wizards in 2009, later securing endorsements from John Wall and Bradley Beal for his contributions to their rapid development.

Cassell joined Doc Rivers' staff on the Los Angeles Clippers in 2014. When he was bypassed for the team's open head-coaching position last year in favor of Tyronn Lue, Cassell followed Rivers to Philadelphia, where he helped the 76ers secure the No. 1 seed and their current berth in the Eastern Conference semifinals.

Philadelphia 76ers assistant coach Sam Cassell. (Michael Reaves/Getty Images)
Philadelphia 76ers assistant coach Sam Cassell. (Michael Reaves/Getty Images)

Chauncey Billups, Los Angeles Clippers assistant

The 2004 Finals MVP played 17 NBA seasons, garnering a reputation as one of the league's best leaders. Upon retirement in 2014, he joined ESPN as an analyst, further earning respect for his acumen. He turned down a reported five-year contract offer to serve as president of basketball operations for LeBron James' Cleveland Cavaliers in 2017 and interviewed for the same job with the Minnesota Timberwolves in 2019.

Billups was among the leading candidates for last year's open head-coaching jobs with the Pacers and Clippers. The interest in his services with no prior front office or coaching experience shows just how highly regarded he is in NBA circles. Billups joined Lue's staff as an assistant after missing out on the lead role, and he is already among the external candidates the Boston Celtics will interview for their vacant position.

Los Angeles Clippers assistant coach Chauncey Billups. (Sarah Stier/Getty Images)
Los Angeles Clippers assistant coach Chauncey Billups. (Sarah Stier/Getty Images)

Will Hardy, San Antonio Spurs assistant

Hardy is a rising star in the industry, interviewing for the open head-coaching positions in New York, Indiana and Oklahoma City at the age of 32 last year. Hardy's ascent is akin to Erik Spoelstra's experience in Miami, and he is considered a prime candidate to replace Popopvich whenever the legendary Spurs coach retires.

Hardy graduated in 2010 from Williams College, where as a senior he led the Ephs to the Division II national championship game, and accepted a basketball operations internship with the Spurs that same year. Over the next six years, he worked as a video coordinator before being promoted to an assistant on Popovich's staff in 2016. Hardy also served as an assistant under Popovich on Team USA at the 2019 FIBA World Cup.

San Antonio Spurs assistant coache Will Hardy, second from left, with Tim Duncan, Greg Popovich and Becky Hammon. (Ronald Cortes/Getty Images)
San Antonio Spurs assistant coach Will Hardy, second from left, with Tim Duncan, Greg Popovich and Becky Hammon. (Ronald Cortes/Getty Images)

Ime Udoka, Brooklyn Nets assistant

Udoka has long been on the short list of top NBA assistants, interviewing for a host of openings since 2018. Undrafted out of Portland State, he managed a 12-year professional playing career, spending parts of seven seasons in the NBA around stops in Spain, France and the G League.

The 43-year-old had two tours of playing duty with the San Antonio Spurs, where he earned Popovich’s respect. Upon retirement in 2012, he joined the Spurs coaching staff and spent the next seven seasons on the bench, assisting the 2014 “Beautiful Game” title run and helping recruit LaMarcus Aldridge in 2015 free agency. Udoka has spent last season on Brett Brown’s staff with the Philadelphia 76ers and is currently on Steve Nash’s bench with the Brooklyn Nets.

Brooklyn Nets assistant coach Ime Udoka. (Steven Ryan/Getty Images)
Brooklyn Nets assistant coach Ime Udoka. (Steven Ryan/Getty Images)

John Calipari, University of Kentucky head coach

Calipari is a bit of a surprise here, but multiple sources tell Yahoo Sports Calipari would be open to jumping back into the NBA. He had a taste in the late 90s, taking over the then-New Jersey Nets following a stint at UMass that didn’t go particularly well. But the changing dynamics at Kentucky, along with the massive expectations from the fan base and alumni, could have him looking for a second bite.

“He may have maxed out at Kentucky,” a high-ranking executive told Yahoo Sports.

“College basketball is a sinking ship,” another executive told Yahoo Sports. “He is much different than his first go-round but that ego is hard to tame.”

Calipari is 62, so if he wants to make a move back to the NBA, it’s likely it’ll have to be soon. He’s coached many of today’s stars and has been outwardly supportive through the years, letting it be known Kentucky is a pro factory.

Contrary to belief, he’s an intense in-game coach — which means he’d have to dial it back in the NBA. But it’s possible and it wouldn’t be a stretch to see a team owner allured by Calipari’s celebrity and experience.

Kentucky head coach John Calipari. (Brett Carlsen/Getty Images)
Kentucky head coach John Calipari. (Brett Carlsen/Getty Images)

Jason Kidd, Los Angeles Lakers assistant

Kidd has coached in multiple places — Milwaukee and Brooklyn — before landing in Los Angeles as a top assistant to Frank Vogel. He’s been mentioned in the Celtics' coaching search as well as Orlando, and was endorsed by Damian Lillard before pulling out of the Portland opening

Kidd said sitting in the assistant seat has been helpful as opposed to coming straight from his playing days to the bench. He did help in the development of Giannis Antetokounmpo, turning him into a point guard which was critical into his two-time MVP status. It ended awkwardly in Brooklyn and Milwaukee, but the Bucks haven’t fully taken the next step after Kidd’s departure. Players still swear by him because of his knowledge and ability to relate. He’s still young enough (48 years old) to evolve as a coach and could get another shot sooner rather than later.

Los Angeles Lakers assistant coach Jason Kidd. (Matteo Marchi/Getty Images)
Los Angeles Lakers assistant coach Jason Kidd. (Matteo Marchi/Getty Images)

Darvin Ham, Milwaukee Bucks assistant

Ham was a tough player at Texas Tech, a tough player on several NBA teams and now as an assistant with the Bucks, is a tough coach although he has strong relationships with the players, stemming from being in player development. Ham has been in line for a while, being a finalist in Indiana recently while also entertaining going back to his alma mater. But he seems like a pro coach, with both the temperament and experience to handle today’s players without coddling them.

“Communication? He knows how to talk to people without being afraid of them,” an executive told Yahoo Sports. Several executives named Ham as a coach to watch during this cycle, and depending on what happens with the Bucks' coaching job — head coach Mike Budenholzer is under a lot of pressure to deliver a loaded roster to the Finals — it wouldn’t be surprising if they kept him along.

“He knows his X’s and O’s, but Black coaches never get promoted for his intellect,” the executive said. “He’s smart. He doesn’t get too high or too low. Players notice that.”

Milwaukee Bucks assistant coach Darvin Ham, right, with Mike Budenholzer when they were with the Hawks in 2015. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)
Milwaukee Bucks assistant coach Darvin Ham, right, with Mike Budenholzer when they were with the Hawks in 2015. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

Jamahl Mosley, Dallas Mavericks assistant

Mosley has been knocking at the door for a while, running the defense for Rick Carlisle in Dallas for six seasons and coaching the team when Carlisle tested positive for COVID-19 in early April. He interviewed for the New York Knicks position that eventually went to Tom Thibodeau in the last coaching cycle.

“He’s very polished, has good knowledge,” an executive told Yahoo Sports on Mosley. “He’s the connection between the coaching staff and the players — Luka [Doncic] and all the guys love him.”

Carlisle has been known to be a little more abrasive, so having someone like Mosley on the staff has been critical for the last several seasons. But it could be time for Mosley to take the next step, especially with him being 42 years old and still able to connect to today’s era of players.

He started out in the video room, similar to Lloyd Pierce, J.B. Bickerstaff, David Vanterpool and many others who are now on the doorstep of receiving their first opportunity.

Dallas Mavericks assistant coach Jamahl Mosley. (Vincent Carchietta/USA TODAY Sports)
Dallas Mavericks assistant coach Jamahl Mosley. (Vincent Carchietta/USA TODAY Sports)

Steve Clifford, former Orlando Magic coach

Clifford and Orlando parted ways after a 21-51, injury-riddled season this year, his third with the Magic. Orlando is headed for a rebuild, and Clifford would probably like to coach a more established, experienced team — he’s usually taken over younger teams and hasn’t gotten the opportunity to take over high-level clubs. 

He coached both Orlando and Charlotte to two playoff appearances each and has been noted for strong defensive teams. He emerged from the Van Gundy tree, coaching under Jeff in Houston from 2003-07 and Stan from 2007-12. He spent a year with the Lakers before getting his first head coaching job with the then-Bobcats.

Former Orlando Magic head coach Steve Clifford. (Sarah Stier/Getty Images)
Former Orlando Magic head coach Steve Clifford. (Sarah Stier/Getty Images)

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