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Becky Hammon to ‘rejoin the family’ as Aces coach

The Aces made it official Friday, announcing the hiring of WNBA legend Becky Hammon as their coach.

Hammon, currently an assistant coach with the San Antonio Spurs, will finish the season with the NBA team and then take over in Las Vegas before the 2022 season. The contract is for five years and makes her the WNBA’s highest-paid coach.

“I am so excited to return to the WNBA and grateful for (owner) Mark Davis and (team president) Nikki Fargas having a vision for me to lead the Aces,” Hammon said in a statement. “This is where I come from.”

Former coach Bill Laimbeer will remain with the organization and assist in roster construction with free agency beginning next week.

Hammon played 16 seasons in the WNBA, including eight with the San Antonio Stars, who relocated to Las Vegas in 2017 and became the Aces. She earned six All-Star nods and was named to four All-WNBA teams, garnering two first-team selections.

She also played eight years for the New York Liberty, with whom she signed in 1999 as an undrafted free agent after starring at Colorado State.

Hammon averaged 13.0 points, 3.8 assists and shot 37.8 percent from 3-point range during her career. She played her prime years with the Stars, averaging 15.6 points and 5.1 assists in 223 games.

She is still the franchise’s career leader in assists (1,333), 3-pointers (498) and free-throw percentage (92.1). She ranks second in points (3,474) and career scoring average (15.6) and fourth in 3-point percentage (38.8).

The Aces retired Hammon’s No. 25 jersey Sept. 13 at the behest of Davis, who honored the franchise’s alumni during halftime of every home game last season. Davis spent time with Hammon that week, and discussions about the coaching position began about a month ago, according to a person familiar with the negotiations.

“This is an exciting day for the Aces organization,” Davis said. “From the moment I met Becky Hammon, I was hopeful that one day she would rejoin the family. I just never imagined it would happen this soon.”

Hammon, 44, inherits a roster rife with All-Star caliber players such as point guard Chelsea Gray, combo guard Kelsey Plum and forward Dearica Hamby. Former No. 1 pick Jackie Young is also under contract, as is second-year guard Destiny Slocum.

Franchise player and former WNBA MVP A’ja Wilson is a restricted free agent, meaning the Aces can match any offer and all but ensuring she will be in Las Vegas next season. Other key players, such as All-Star center Liz Cambage, All-Star wing Angel McCoughtry and two-way wing Riquna Williams, are unrestricted free agents.

Laimbeer had coached the Aces since 2018 and was 77-45. He guided the franchise from the bottom of the WNBA toward the top, reaching the semifinals three times and the WNBA Finals in 2020.

He’s 306-215 in 17 seasons as a WNBA coach, winning titles in 2003, 2006 and 2008 with the Detroit Shock. Only Washington Mystics coach Mike Thibault has more coaching wins (357) in the WNBA than Laimbeer.

“This is the best possible scenario for the Las Vegas Aces,” Laimbeer said in a statement. “It takes a tremendous amount of energy to be a head coach. In Becky, the team now has somebody who can serve in that role for the long term.”

Hammon began her coaching career in 2014, becoming the first full-time female assistant in NBA history under Spurs legend Gregg Popovich. She coached the Spurs to an NBA Summer League championship in 2015 and became the first acting female head coach in NBA history on Dec. 30, 2020, after Popovich was ejected from a game.

“She’s a very valuable part of the program. I’ve come to depend on her a great deal,” Popovich said. “For her, it’s a great opportunity to have a head coaching job at that level — to prove herself. She’s already proven herself to me, but that doesn’t matter in the long run.

“She’s interviewed for a few jobs in the NBA. She would have been more than qualified … but it didn’t work out. She’s certainly capable, and I think she’ll prove that in Vegas. They’ve got a hell of a coach coming their way.”

Popovich also touted Hammon’s coaching skill set: intelligence, intuitive feel for the game, work ethic, ability to teach.

“It’s no different because she’s a woman,” he said. “She has to have all the same qualities the guys have coaching. And she has them.”

Hammon returned the compliment.

“I’m especially thankful to Pop, who only cared about my potential, not my gender,” Hammon said. “He saw something special in me and was willing to invest the time and energy to help teach and develop a young coach.”

Contact reporter Sam Gordon at sgordon@reviewjournal.com. Follow @BySamGordon on Twitter.

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