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Phoenix Mercury hire NBA assistant Nate Tibbetts as head coach

(Abbie Parr/Getty Images)

Orlando Magic assistant coach Nate Tibbetts is the new head coach of the Phoenix Mercury, the team announced Wednesday.

The Mercury are making Tibbetts, who has no women’s basketball experience, the highest-paid WNBA head coach, passing the Las Vegas Aces’ Becky Hammon, ESPN reported Monday. The terms of Tibbetts’ deal have not been reported, but Hammon reportedly earns $1 million per season.

Hammon signed with the Aces on a record-setting deal ahead of the 2022 offseason. Before that, she spent eight seasons as an assistant coach with the NBA’s San Antonio Spurs. Teresa Weatherspoon, who was hired last week as the head coach of the Chicago Sky, also brought NBA experience. Both Hammon and Weatherspoon also have WNBA playing experience.

While this will be Tibbetts’ first time coaching in the WNBA, he has held multiple NBA assistant coaching roles. He joined the Magic in 2021, and previously worked with the Portland Trail Blazers and Cleveland Cavaliers.

“Nate is an excellent basketball coach and an even better person,” Mercury general manager Nick U’Ren said in a news release. “I am excited to work with him as we build an organization that our players, fans and community will be proud of. His knowledge of the game, and commitment to creating a winning culture on and off the floor will be invaluable as we lead the Mercury into our next championship era.”

Tibbetts takes over a Mercury team that has struggled in recent seasons. In 2023, the team finished last in the league with a 9-31 record and missed the playoffs for the first time since 2012.

Phoenix parted ways with head coach Vanessa Nygaard in late June, and then after the season elected not to elevate interim head coach Nikki Blue to the permanent role.

“From bringing the WNBA All-Star game to Phoenix, building a dedicated practice facility for the Mercury, and now to bringing on Nate as our head coach, everything we do, on and off the floor, centers around our fans, elevating Phoenix as the epicenter of basketball, and setting a new standard for investment in women’s sports,” Mercury owner Mat Ishbia said in a news release.