A little more than a month ago -- which, if you trust the Celtics’ transition timeline, would be around the point that Brad Stevens knew he’d soon be hiring his own replacement -- Boston’s new president of basketball operations was asked about the possibility that we could soon see the NBA’s first female head coach.
"I think there’s several very qualified candidates and Becky [Hammon], obviously, is a terrific candidate,” Stevens said before a late-April game against the San Antonio Spurs, where Hammon has served as an assistant since 2014. "I don’t know her well but I know what people think about her and I know how well she’s respected all across the league, by players and the coaches. So I would hope that that time is coming very soon.
“Obviously, we’ve had -- [vice president of player development and organizational growth] Allison [Feaster] is not in a coaching position but she’s incredible in our organization. And Kara Lawson is a star, [she] was here [as an assistant coach from 2019-20], we couldn’t hardly keep her here, obviously.
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"So there’s all kinds of good candidates that are now in the league, there’s all kind of good candidates that will be in the league soon and, without question, that day is coming. I’m amongst the hopeful that it’s very soon.”
If, in his first major move in his new role, Stevens determines that Hammon, Lawson, or any other female coach is the right person to lead this Celtics team forward, he has a chance to make a monumental hire. This would be nothing new for a Celtics franchise that has long been ahead of the curve after fielding the NBA’s first all-Black starting five and hiring the first Black head coach in league history.
Stevens will hire the best person for the job but the significance of hiring the first female likely would not be lost on him. This reporter’s mind races back to the 2016 presidential election and the way Stevens beamed while detailing conversations with his young daughter about the possibility of the first female president.
While Stevens admitted he doesn’t know Hammon well, we know what he thinks of Gregg Popovich, and Hammon's experiences in San Antonio have undoubtedly positioned her well for any head coaching opportunity. She already became the NBA’s first active female head coach when she took over for Popovich when he got ejected from a game earlier this season.
Both Hammon and Lawson have decorated resumes from their playing days in both the WNBA and international competition. Hammon was a six-time WNBA All-Star and landed on four All-WNBA teams; Lawson won a WNBA title in 2005 and gold at the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing.
Everyone in the Celtics organization, especially Stevens, gushed about Lawson’s impact during her brief time here. That the entire team donned Duke T-shirts for a photo before her departure speaks volumes about the relationships she built in that short time.
“[The Celtics organization] made me feel so welcome,” Lawson said at her introductory press conference at Duke. “People would ask me a lot throughout the year what it was like when you went in the locker room, or around the guys, and it just felt normal. I never felt like I stuck out. I always felt a part of the staff and part of the team.”
Stevens previously noted how he, his wife, Tracy, and Lawson discussed potential future plans on a walk together before she took the Duke job. We’re left wondering if the possibility of being an NBA head coach came up in that conversation.
The only question with Lawson is seemingly whether she could leave the Duke job so soon after arriving. She coached only four games before the team opted out of the season due to safety concerns stemming from COVID-19.
For the Celtics, the question about their next head coach doesn’t come down to gender, it’s simply who is the best basketball mind to lead this core forward. Who can get the most out of the All-Star tandem of Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown, and get this team back into position to contend for a title after an unsatisfying 2020-21 season.
They might just make a little history in the process of answering that question.
Editor's Note: Chris Forsberg will examine different Celtics head coach candidates every day this week. Next up: the former NBA stars.