It appears that the Pistons, who’ve gone nearly two months without a head coach, have finally found their man.
The Pistons are expected to hire former Phoenix Suns coach Monty Williams, a league source confirmed to The Detroit News on Wednesday night.
The deal is for six years and $78.5 million, which instantly makes Williams the highest-paid coach in the NBA, surpassing San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich, whose salary reportedly was $11 million per season.
The deal is “fundamentally done,” and Williams is expected to sign a contract in the next couple of days, a league source said.
The Athletic was first to report the news of Detroit’s expected hiring of Williams.
Detroit made an initial overture, but Williams reportedly turned it down, citing a desire to take a year off from coaching, which he communicated to several teams after he was dismissed by the Suns, according to a report by Marc Stein.
Williams, 51, would become the 37th coach in franchise history, replacing Dwane Casey, who opted to move into a front-office position following the season.
Williams led the Suns to the NBA Finals in 2021, but was fired by the organization on May 13, shortly after they were eliminated from the Western Conference semifinal round of the playoffs for the second consecutive season. New Suns owner and United Wholesale Mortgage CEO Mat Ishbia reportedly led the charge in Williams’ dismissal.
Williams had three years and $21 million remaining on his contract with the Suns, but his new deal with the Pistons puts him in rarified air by coaching-salary standards. Williams is the first head coaching hire of general manager Troy Weaver’s tenure since he took the reins of the Pistons in 2020.
Two finalists for the Pistons’ coaching job, former Overtime Elite coach Kevin Ollie and Milwaukee Bucks assistant Charles Lee, also were being considered. Both candidates received second interviews with the Pistons’ ownership and front office last week. The Bucks considered Lee for the head-coaching job, but the franchise opted for an external hire and chose former Toronto assistant Adrian Griffin.
While Ollie and Lee are without NBA coaching experience, Williams has nine years’ experience as a head coach. He coached in New Orleans for five seasons, from 2010-15, and spent four seasons with the Suns, beginning in 2019. He received the Coach of the Year award after leading the Suns to a franchise-record 64 wins during the 2021-22 season.
The Pistons’ last two coaches were respected, experienced and prominent names, including Casey, who announced his transition to the front office on April 9, after the team completed the season with a league-worst 17-65 record. Despite his 121-263 record in five seasons as coach, Casey led the Pistons to their last playoff appearance in 2018-19. Stan Van Gundy coached Detroit from 2014-18 and also held the title of president of basketball operations.
Williams is no stranger to leading rebuilds. The Suns compiled a 19-63 record in 2019 and Williams helped increase their win total in three consecutive seasons, beginning in 2019-20: 34-39, 51-21 and 64-18. Phoenix completed a blockbuster midseason trade with the Brooklyn Nets to acquire Kevin Durant, but the team finished with a record of 45-37.
Williams takes over a young team headlined by Cade Cunningham, Jaden Ivey, Bojan Bogdanovic and Jalen Duren. The team’s inexperience combined with several injuries to rotation players — the most dire of which required season-ending surgery for Cunningham — caused the Pistons to finish with a league-worst 17 wins.
The Pistons were one of three teams without a coach, along with the Suns and Toronto Raptors. Detroit hoped to secure the No. 1 pick in the NBA Draft Lottery for a chance to draft Victor Wembanyama, but it dropped to the fifth pick for the second straight year.
Detroit likely isn’t ready to compete for the NBA playoffs as constructed, but another successful draft, along with roster tweaks during free agency could put the Williams in a viable position to compete for at least the Play-In tournament as early as next season.
Weaver had said on April 11 that there was no sense of urgency in hiring a new coach, and the organization has shown exactly that, but they made a big hire to kick-start their summer. With 52 days since the Pistons’ coaching search began, some began to wonder why the team remained without a lead voice, but Williams’ hiring now paints a clearer picture of why there was the extended delay.