On the outside, Will Hardy looks like a young mix of … who’s this, Dennis Lindsey and Quin Snyder?
Weird. I’m seeing it, but maybe nobody else will.
The bigger question is, who the hell is Will Hardy?
We all know the basics. He’s a basketball baby at 34. He worked for the Spurs for 11 years, getting promoted from video dude to assistant for Gregg Popovich, a legendary curmudgeon who doesn’t suffer fools at all. If Hardy is capable enough to impress the old buzzard, he’s got some good knowledge, some good endorsement going for him. He once said about his promotion under Popovich that he was “scared to death.”
If that scared him, what he’s facing now, a few years later, must nudge him toward petrification.
Hardy jumped ship to the Celtics to be an assistant before last season, when Ime Udoka was hired upon Brad Stevens’ elevator ride to the front office. And that happened after Danny Ainge left Boston to come to Utah. Oh, and he played basketball at a place called Williams College.
Not that it has anything to do with Hardy’s ability to lead the Jazz, but, according to Forbes, Williams College, located in Williamstown, Mass., is a small private prestigious liberal arts school that rigorously requires students to stay afloat in arts and humanities, social sciences, science and mathematics. There have been a bunch of successful alums from that institution in a wide range of fields, from politics to film and entertainment to international prize winners. Now, a third of Williams students play a varsity sport, competing in Division III’s New England Small College Athletic Conference.
The school’s primary color is … get a load of this, Jazz rebrand revolutionaries … purple, and its sports mascot is a Purple Cow.
Hardy was a guard/forward for Williams, graduating in 2010 before embarking on his NBA career.
Now that you know all of that, let’s get to the biggest question of all.
Can Will Hardy succeed as a head coach at the highest pro level?
The Jazz are counting on it.
After having interviewed about a thousand candidates — OK, it was actually about 15, including a swath of former NBA head coaches and assistants — they settled on the youngster, the first-timer. He thrived at the more modest levels for which he was given responsibility heretofore. And everyone saw what the Celtics were able to achieve in 2021-22, in which Hardy played his role.
It’s been reported that Jazz execs were blown away by Hardy’s responses to their inquiries in interviews.
What does that mean, exactly?
How will he do with the Jazz?
Nobody knows, not really. And nobody hires a coach they are not blown away by, even those who turn out to be abject failures.
Whenever a new head coach is brought in, especially a novice, voices from all corners ricochet out, singing praises and casting doubts, usually more of the former than the latter.
As suggested, they’re all guessing, even the guys who think they are sure enough to be signing him to a five-year deal.
Will he be better than Snyder?
There’s no way he could be, certainly not right off the bat. He doesn’t have the experience Snyder had developed over his previous years. He’s likely not as smart, not as savvy, not as prepared, not as put together.
But optimists point to what happened in Boston, when Stevens, long considered one of the most capable of NBA coaches, yielded the reins to Udoka and, in his initial season, the new guy took the Celtics to the Finals.
It’s an old cliche that sometimes players need a new voice. Might not be a better voice, just a different one.
Is it Hardy’s that Donovan Mitchell, Rudy Gobert, and the rest of the Jazz, whatever that makeup will be come October, will respond to? He is thought to be one of the top assistants in the league, has convinced those around him, those who have worked with him, those who have watched him, and now those — at least a few — who have measured him.
Guesses, though, are all anyone has — on account of the fact that he’s never done this before. I’ve made no empirical study of it, but based on general observation, when humans do something for the first time, they bump and skid for a bit. Not always, just usually.
The age thing is a thing.
Perhaps his youth will make him easier for Jazz brass to mold, or control.
Perhaps it will help Hardy relate to his players in an effective manner, you know, bro to bro. Celtics star Jayson Tatum praised the hire, calling Hardy “extremely deserving.” But the guys he will coach now, all of whom have been coached by a multitude of mentors in the past, including most recently one of the brightest basketball minds on the planet, will be dialed in, observing him closely, coming to their own judgments as to whether he knows what he’s doing, whether they can rely on him in important moments in significant games, whether they can trust him, whether he puts them in the right position at the right time to win and win and win. Or lose.
Chances are, some players will test him as a means of discovery.
If Hardy is ready, it will bubble up to the surface. If he isn’t, that will emerge. If he learns as he makes contact and/or whiffs, that can be the most critical piece of all.
A whole lot of learning, he will have to do.