The Phoenix Mercury are finalizing a contract with Orlando Magic assistant Nate Tibbetts to make him their next coach, a league source said. Here’s what you need to know:
- The deal will make Tibbetts the league’s highest-paid coach, passing Las Vegas Aces’ Becky Hammon, per ESPN. Hammon signed a WNBA record-setting contract during the 2021-22 offseason when Las Vegas hired her after a multi-season tenure with the San Antonio Spurs.
- Tibbetts assumes the position after Phoenix parted ways with coach Vanessa Nygaard in late June. The franchise also elected not to name interim coach Nikki Blue as its permanent coach.
- Tibbetts has been an assistant coach with the Orlando Magic since 2021, working under head coach Jamahl Mosley. He has previous NBA experience with the Portland Trail Blazers and Cleveland Cavaliers, as well as in the G League with the Tulsa 66ers and Sioux Falls Skyforce.
- Tibbetts takes over a Mercury team that finished a league-worst 9-31 last season.
- His hiring is the first significant move by new general manager Nick U’Ren, who was hired this past summer after spending nine years in basketball operations with the Golden State Warriors.
What does Tibbetts bring to the Mercury?
The answer to that remains a bit uncertain. Although Tibbetts has extensive experience in the NBA and has interviewed for NBA head coach roles in the past, he will join the WNBA for the first time when he takes over the Mercury job.
His hiring does reflect a recent trend of WNBA head coaching jobs going to coaches with NBA experience. Tibbetts now becomes the third recently hired head coach in the league with NBA experience, joining Hammon and new Chicago Sky coach Teresa Weatherspoon, although the two latter coaches also were once WNBA players.
Ishbia continues to invest in the franchise
It’s fair to wonder how Tibbetts will acclimate to the WNBA, but his hiring and reported salary are more examples of new owner Mat Ishbia investing in the franchise. Earlier this month, the Mercury announced plans for a new $100-plus million, 123,000-square-foot development for a dedicated practice facility for the Mercury, and a business headquarters for the Phoenix Suns and Mercury. In other changes, Ishbia, who was introduced as the franchise’s owner in February, also announced that next season the team will broadcast its games free on television and streamed online on a new service called Kiswe, going away from Bally Sports Arizona.
The Mercury are additionally set to host the 2024 WNBA All-Star Game next summer.
What other offseason questions does Phoenix have?
The Mercury are looking to return to their championship-level form after struggling this past season. Diana Taurasi is under contract for another season while Brittney Griner is a free agent. Both, however, said in their exit interviews they intend to play for the franchise next season. Taurasi had praise for Blue, who went 7-21 after taking over, saying Blue “has all the qualities to be an unbelievable head coach. She has an ability to lead women and make them believe in themselves. She would be an amazing asset to our team.”
Star guard Skylar Diggins-Smith did not play for the team this past season while on maternity leave, and her future with the franchise remains in question. U’Ren did not provide an update on her status at the conclusion of the season, and the organization did not provide any conclusive comments about her future with the organization during the season, either.
Phoenix also has a number of other notable free agents, including Shey Peddy, Megan Gustafson and Sug Sutton.
(Photo: Jamie Sabau / Getty Images)