DETROIT — When Pistons general manager Troy Weaver initially reached out to Monty Williams last month about the team’s coaching vacancy, Williams said he wasn’t in the right place mentally to discuss the gig.
Not only was Williams still reeling from being fired as coach of the Phoenix Suns on May 13, but he was considering taking time off from coaching after his wife, Lisa, was diagnosed with breast cancer during the playoffs.
However, Williams, whose first wife, Ingrid, died in a car crash in 2016, received good news about Lisa’s health sooner than the family anticipated. And once he connected with the Pistons again later in the month, a deal came together quickly to make him the team’s coach.
“That was a huge part of my decision making,” Williams said Tuesday at his introductory news conference. “The patience the Pistons had with that told me a lot.”
Williams said he was discussing his wife’s health on Tuesday in an attempt to help others and stress the importance of testing.
“The reason that I bring it up is to not talk about my family, but to make it more of an emphasis that women need early detection testing,” he said. “We had genetic testing done and then scan after scan after scan and then we found it early, and that may have saved my wife’s life. It can save others.”
Another major factor in Williams ending up as the Pistons’ coach: the six-year, $78.5 million contract they gave him, the largest coaching deal in NBA history.
While Williams was impressed by Weaver and Pistons owner Tom Gores and the three shared similar visions, Williams was not shy in acknowledging that the money was a big factor in persuading him to lead the team. Williams flew to Los Angeles to meet with Gores and Weaver at Gores’ home, and by the end of the night, Williams was on board.
“That’s something that people don’t talk about; they always say it wasn’t about the money,” Williams said. “I always laugh at that. I think that’s disrespectful. When somebody is that generous to pay me that kind of money, one, that should be applauded, and two, it should be talked about.”
Williams takes over a Pistons team that finished with the league’s worst record last season at 17-65. Detroit has won just 80 games over the past four seasons, the fewest wins in the NBA during that span.
Turning around the Pistons presents a familiar challenge for Williams. The last team to post a winning percentage under .300 in three consecutive seasons was the Suns, who had done so in four straight seasons from 2015 to ’19 before Williams took over, according to ESPN Stats & Information research.
The next season, Phoenix won 34 games, a 15-win improvement with Williams at the helm.
“Monty is hungry,” Gores said Tuesday. “He’s not resting on his laurels. … We got a lot of work to do, but it’s an exciting time for us and a big win.”
Although the Pistons have been hesitant in the past to place too many expectations on one of the youngest rosters in the league, Weaver said Williams could help jumpstart the process of getting Detroit out of the basement of the Eastern Conference.
“We’re ready to take a step forward,” Weaver said. “We had a lot of injuries last year that derailed us and slowed us down.”
The Pistons finished with their worst record since 1979-80, but their dismal record did not turn into good luck at the draft lottery. Detroit landed the No.5 pick for the second consecutive season but missed out on the opportunity to select French prospect Victor Wembanyama, who is expected to go No.1 overall.
Still, the Pistons have a foundation on their roster behind recent top draft picks, including Cade Cunningham, the No. 1 overall pick in 2021, and Jaden Ivey and Jalen Duren, the No. 5 and No. 13 picks, respectively, last summer. The entire Pistons roster, other than Bojan Bogdanovic, who is from Croatia, sat in attendance for Williams’ introduction Tuesday.
“You can see the talent of this group and you see the size, but what I’m really impressed by is the people,” Williams said. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen a press conference for a head coach and all the players show up. That’s what I see: a hunger, a desire. They all want it.
“If you’re asking about similarities to Phoenix [at the start], that was what was similar. Those guys were hungry, they wanted it.”
Williams coached the Hornets from 2010 to ’15 and went 173-221 (.439) with a pair of first-round playoff losses. He had much more success with the Suns during his four-year tenure, reaching the 2021 NBA Finals and winning coach of the year honors in ’22. Williams had a .628 winning percentage in Phoenix, but the organization fired him after losing in the Western Conference semifinals two years in a row.
“You just have to have the fortitude to move forward,” Williams said. “That experience has allowed me to be here.
“When you get fired, that doesn’t mean there has to be contention or there has to be silliness that goes with that. I don’t believe that. And yet, when somebody shows this kind of confidence in you, it gives you confidence to move forward with them in a cool way.”