Niyo: Tom Gores, Pistons called the bank shot with Monty Williams

Detroit News

There is no salary cap for coaches in the NBA. There’s really no limit to a billionaire’s budget, either.

So once Monty Williams was available, the Pistons almost had no choice but to make it worth the wait.

And Tom Gores & Co. are betting big that it will be now, as a deal to bring the 51-year-old Williams to Detroit is both “fundamentally done,” according to a league source, and foundationally seismic.

The Pistons’ blockbuster deal to land arguably the biggest name in the league’s coaching carousel this spring required some patience and persistence, after two months in limbo and more than one overture. It also comes with some sticker shock, too. That six-year, $78.5 million offer extended to Williams earlier this week will make him the highest-paid coach in the league, surpassing the likes of San Antonio’s Gregg Popovich and Golden State’s Steve Kerr and their handfuls of championship rings. (Team option years and incentives could push the total value to $100 million, according to The Athletic.)

But Williams has won more games than anybody else in the game over the last three seasons, leading the Suns to the NBA Finals in 2021 and earning NBA Coach of the Year honors a year ago. And while back-to-back exits in the Western Conference semifinals the past two seasons didn’t meet expectations in Phoenix, those credentials will be viewed in a different light here in Detroit, where the Pistons’ last playoff win was 15 years ago last week.

That drought is surely part of what pushed Gores to make this bold move now, but it’s hardly out of character. The Pistons’ owner made a similar splash nearly a decade ago when he handed the keys to Stan Van Gundy as team president and head coach, outbidding the Warriors in the process. He did it again when he decided that ship had sailed, convincing and cajoling Dwane Casey to jump aboard in 2018 after the reigning NBA Coach of the Year had been unceremoniously dumped by Toronto.

Gores refused to take no for an answer from Casey then, and now he has done the same with Williams, who rebuffed initial overtures from Detroit — and Milwaukee, notably — following his dismissal in Phoenix last month.

The Pistons and general manager Troy Weaver were well into their coaching search by that point, and a short list of finalists had emerged, led by Bucks assistant Charles Lee and former UConn coach Kevin Ollie, who spent the last two seasons running the Overtime Elite program. But with consensus hard to find around candidates who’d be first-time head coaches, and an overriding belief that something more was needed, the Pistons smartly circled back to try to land Williams, applying a full-court press last weekend at Gores’ home in Los Angeles.

Weaver has a connection to Williams from their time together in Oklahoma City, not to mention their roots in the Washington, D.C., area. And though the allure of the Pistons’ job took a hit when Detroit fell to fifth in the NBA draft lottery, the fit from Detroit’s perspective was obvious.

Williams is one of the most well-respected coaches in the league, and beyond his character and charisma, there’s also a track record of developing young players that stands out. The task he’s taking on in Detroit isn’t all that different than the rebuild he pushed through in Phoenix, either. The Suns had been floundering for a decade and were coming off a 19-win season when Williams was hired there in 2019. But they won 34 games in his first year in Phoenix, and won the West the year after that.

Presumably, he sees the same potential here in Detroit. There’s a young core to build around with Cade Cunningham, Jaden Ivey and Jalen Duren, among others, and the Pistons can add to it with the No. 5 overall pick in the draft later this month. There’s also veteran holdovers in Bojan Bogdanovic and Alec Burks, plus salary-cap space for Weaver to add another starter (Jerami Grant?) in free agency this summer.

Yet Williams also had reasons to wait, which is why Gores had to make him an offer he simply couldn’t refuse.

If it’s an overpay, so be it. Gores’ bank account can handle it, and so can the rest of his exclusive NBA owners’ club, including Mat Ishbia, the new owner in Phoenix who cut Williams loose after last month’s playoff exit with three years and $21 million still owed on his deal there. That golden parachute only added to the Pistons’ challenge in landing Williams, who could afford to sit back and wait for the right opportunity, both for himself and his family.

But in this league, you either shoot your shot or suffer in silence. And clearly, the Pistons’ owner has little interest in the latter.

Twitter: @JohnNiyo

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