Pistons to hire Monty Williams as coach, per sources: Why Detroit made an offer he couldn’t refuse

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Monty Williams and the Detroit Pistons have agreed in principle on a six-year, $78.5 million deal for Williams to become the franchise’s head coach, league sources told The Athletic on Wednesday. The deal has team options for Years 7 and 8 and could reach close to $100 million in totality with incentives, league sources said. It is expected to be finalized in the coming days.

The Athletic first reported earlier Wednesday that the Pistons were heavily pursuing Williams to replace Dwane Casey.

The weekend before Memorial Day, back in Los Angeles, Pistons owner Tom Gores, general manager Troy Weaver and others in Detroit’s front office held a meeting to figure out what to do about a coaching vacancy that had been unsettled for nearly two months. Up to this point, the Pistons’ intentionally slow-played process had led them to close to a dozen interviewed candidates, according to team sources, with Charles Lee and Kevin Ollie, both of whom had never been an NBA head coach before, leading the pack.

Both Lee, the Milwaukee Bucks’ lead assistant, and Ollie, the former UConn and Overtime Elite coach, had impressed in different ways, per team sources granted anonymity because they were not authorized to publicly discuss the hiring process. But there was a gut feeling among the collective that the search needed to continue.

That’s when Gores raised the question to the group:

“What if we go back to Monty?”

Two weeks prior, Williams, the 2022 NBA Coach of the Year, was fired by the Phoenix Suns after a Western Conference semifinals exit. Detroit, according to league sources, immediately checked in with Williams and his representatives to gauge his interest in its coaching vacancy and, to put it simply, see if he’d like to meet. Williams, though, had informed the Pistons, Bucks and other NBA teams interested in hiring him that he was not ready to commit to coaching next season and was leaning toward taking a year off, per league sources. The Pistons didn’t make a formal offer to Williams at that time, multiple sources said.

This time around, Gores, Weaver and the rest of the Pistons’ front office decided to not take “no” for an answer and put numbers in front of Williams, as well as a plan to court and entice him to come help an up-and-coming squad get to the next level, as he had done with the Suns, rather than sit out a season. The next day after that collective meeting, Gores sent a private plane to Phoenix to pick up Williams, per league sources. The 51-year-old coach was in Gores’ California living room that night.

A week later, Williams has agreed to a lucrative deal making him the highest-paid coach in the NBA. Williams is the winningest coach in the league since 2021, when he helped lead the Suns to the NBA Finals.

Williams is, without question, a home-run hire for Detroit. A strong case could be made that he was the best available candidate to hit the open market. He took over a Suns team in 2019 that had just 19 wins the year before and turned them into a 34-win team in his first season before Phoenix became one of the NBA’s premier squads. The Pistons are in a similar position to that Suns team of 2019, coming off a 17-win season but with promising franchise building blocks in the likes of Cade Cunningham, Jaden Ivey, Jalen Duren and Isaiah Stewart, as well as the No. 5 pick in this year’s draft.

Detroit saw Williams as the perfect fit for its team at this point in time. Weaver and Williams overlapped in Oklahoma City, and when the door opened for the Pistons to make a move, Gores, Weaver and company put all of their chips into the middle of the table.

During the initial conversations in which Williams told teams, including Detroit, that he was leaning toward taking next season off — Phoenix owes him roughly $21 million over the next three years — he did mention that the Pistons, along with another team, would be a job he’d consider taking if he were to come back to the sideline next season, per league sources. The heavy pursuit from Weaver, Arn Tellem and Gores, along with a lucrative commitment and fondness for Detroit’s young core, ultimately, was too good for Williams to pass up.

On Memorial Day, the day after Williams met Gores at his home, Gores and his team put a memorandum in front of Williams that laid out loose terms and other incentives and extras. The two sides agreed to the fundamentals of the terms, but Williams took a few days to ponder the decision with his family before making it official, team sources said.

In the end, Detroit’s offer was too sweet for Williams to sit out next season, and the Pistons turned a long and potentially uninspiring coaching search into, arguably, the biggest splash of the offseason so far.

It took time, longer than some would have liked, but in the end, Detroit’s approach, patience and commitment to building the historic franchise back into a regular winner paid off: The Pistons landed one of the best coaches in the NBA.

Required reading

  • Should the Pistons trade back in the 2023 NBA Draft? There’s a case to be made
  • Why the Suns fired Monty Williams: Mat Ishbia’s title push and another sour end

(Photo: Matthew Stockman / Getty Images)

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