October 16, 2023
Phoenix Mercury set to hire Orlando Magic assistant coach Nate Tibbetts as head coach
Tibbetts is expected to become highest-paid head coach in WNBA history
On Monday, ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reported that Nate Tibbetts, an assistant coach for the Orlando Magic, will become the new head coach of the Phoenix Mercury.
Tibbetts’ contract is still being finalized, but he is set to become the highest-paid coach in the history of the WNBA, according to Wojnarowski. His earnings will surpass those of Becky Hammon, the head coach of the Las Vegas Aces, who currently earns over $1 million annually.
Tibbetts has been an assistant coach in the NBA for 12 seasons and also has experience as a head and assistant coach in the NBA G-League. He has no experience coaching women’s basketball. (However, his father Fred coached women’s basketball at the high school and college levels and was inducted into the South Dakota Sports Hall of Fame in 2007.)
Tibbetts is the second head coaching hire of this WNBA offseason. On Oct. 10, Shams Charania of The Athletic was first to report that the Chicago Sky would hire WNBA legend Teresa Weatherspoon to fill their head coaching vacancy.
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Hiring Tibbetts is only one of several recent changes for the Mercury. Owner Mat Ishbia, who took over in February, hired Golden State Warriors senior basketball executive Nick U’Ren as general manager to replace Jim Pitman, who retired after 10 seasons. In addition, Ishbia announced plans to invest $100 million in a new headquarters for the Mercury and the NBA’s Phoenix Suns in downtown Phoenix. As part of this investment, he intends to build a practice facility specifically for the Mercury, which should be ready by spring 2024.
“We are working every day to make the Phoenix Suns and Mercury a world-class organization on and off the floor,” Ishbia said in a press release. “You create great culture by investing in people. A basketball franchise is so much more than a normal business, it is a catalyst for change. I am so excited to be making an investment that builds on our vision for the Phoenix Suns and Mercury to continue investing in our players, team members, fans, and community.”
The Phoenix Mercury will host the 2024 WNBA All-Star Game at the Footprint Center. This will be the third time hosting in franchise history and the first time since 2014.
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Tibbetts’ hire also comes at a tumultuous time for Phoenix on the court. Two seasons ago, the Mercury reached the WNBA Finals but lost to the Chicago Sky in four games. They then parted ways with longtime head coach Sandy Brondello, who is now the head coach for the New York Liberty.
Last season, the Mercury finished with the worst record in the league at 9-31 and failed to make the playoffs for the first time since 2012. Head coach Vanessa Nygaard was fired after a 2-10 start, and assistant coach Nikki Blue was elevated to interim head coach. She was under consideration for the permanent job but lost out to Tibbetts.
However, the future could be a little brighter for Phoenix. The Mercury’s record over the past two seasons is 24-52, giving them the second-best lottery odds in the 2024 WNBA Draft. This draft class is expected to be stacked with talented players, potentially including guards Caitlin Clark of the Iowa Hawkeyes and Paige Bueckers from the UConn Huskies.
In addition, Mercury center Brittney Griner, an unrestricted free agent, has expressed plans to return to Phoenix in 2024. Legendary guard Diana Taurasi, who became the first player in WNBA history to score 10,000 career points this season, will also return, and the team has over $630,000 to spend in free agency.
Written by Aya Abdeen
Aya Abdeen is a student in sports journalism at Arizona State University and has been a contributing writer for The Next Hoops since December 2022. Her work has also appeared on AZPreps365.