07 Jan

Phoenix Mercury to hire Nate Tibbetts, make him highest paid head coach in WNBA history, per report

The Phoenix Mercury are hiring Nate Tibbetts as their new head coach, and they will make him the highest paid coach in WNBA history, according to Adrian Wojnarowski. Tibbetts arrives from the NBA’s Orlando Magic, where he had been serving as an assistant coach since 2021.

Details of Tibbett’s contract remain unclear, though he will be making upward of $1 million per year. That is what it will take to surpass Las Vegas Aces head coach Becky Hammon, who was lured away from the San Antonio Spurs in February 2022 by a then-record breaking deal that pays her $1 million annually.

Tibbetts began his professional coaching career over a decade ago with the Cleveland Cavaliers, working as an assistant with the team from 2011-13. He then left to join the Portland Trail Blazers and was an assistant there until 2021, when he was hired by the Magic. Though well respected around the WNBA, Tibbetts has no previous WNBA or head coaching experience.

He will step into a Mercury organization that is looking to hit the reset button after one of the worst seasons in franchise history. With Skylar Diggins-Smith out on maternity leave and veteran stars Brittney Griner and Diana Taurasi missing significant time due to injury, the Mercury limped to a last-place finish at 9-31. The .225 winning percentage was the second-worst ever recorded by the proud franchise, which also missed the playoffs for the first time since 2012.

Along the way, second-year head coach Vanessa Nygaard was fired after a 2-10 start. She was replaced by interim head coach Nikki Blue, who was not retained at the end of the season. Tibbetts is the first major hire by new Mercury general manager Nick U’Ren, who arrived from the Golden State Warriors in July.

While it’s notable the Mercury hired two non-WNBA personnel for such key roles, it certainly wasn’t because of a lack of funds. In addition to giving Tibbetts and U’Ren signiciant salaries, new Mercury owner Mat Ishbia has pledged $100 million for a new training facility that will house both the Mercury and Phoenix Suns.

With key decision makers now in place, the Mercury can start planning for a potentially franchise-altering offseason. First up is the 2024 WNBA Draft Lottery, which will determine their position for one of the best draft classes to ever enter the league. In addition to prepping for a rare lottery appearance, the Mercury will have some big decisions to make in free agency, with both Diggins-Smith and Griner set to be unrestricted free agents this winter.