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Wife’s cancer almost prevented Monty Williams from taking Pistons job

Williams will assume leadership of a promising young core featuring Cade Cunningham, Jaden Ivey and Jalen Duren.

Monty Williams earns his third head coaching job after previously leading New Orleans and Phoenix.

DETROIT (AP) — For much of the spring, finding an NBA coaching job was the last thing Monty Williams cared about.

After being fired by the Phoenix Suns following their elimination from the postseason, Williams had talked to a few teams when his family got some upsetting news — his wife, Lisa, was diagnosed with breast cancer.

Williams was introduced Tuesday as the new coach of the Detroit Pistons, and he discussed his wife’s health in an attempt to help others.

“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. 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.”

Williams had been in contact with Pistons general manager Troy Weaver, but dropped out of contention for the Detroit job when his wife was diagnosed.

“As we navigated all of that, I was talking to Troy and telling him man, I couldn’t, you know, right now because I gotta take care of my family,” he said.

Williams, whose first wife, Ingrid, died in a car crash in 2016, was ready to take at least one season off to spend more time with his wife and kids. He’s also helping his son Elijah — a top recruiting target for schools across the country — deal with that aspect of his life.

“After we got the good news about Lisa, I was with my kid at a tryout when I got a text from Troy out of the blue,” he said. “I thought everything was totally off the table, but things went quickly after that.”

Williams flew to Los Angeles to meet with owner Tom Gores.

“I had met with Troy for about five days at my house, and I told him we had a critical responsibility to get this right for our players,” Gores said. “They have literally trusted us and they are even holding their own practices. I wouldn’t say it was a yelling match, but we talked about how it was important to deliver for those young men.”

Monty Williams said Detroit's young talent was a key reason why he agreed to join the Pistons.

Williams coached New Orleans from 2010-15, going 173-221 and losing twice in the first round of the playoffs.

Things were different in Phoenix. Taking over a team that had gone 19-63 in 2018-19, Williams led the Suns to a 34-39 record in the pandemic-affected 2019-20 season, then 51-21 and a berth in the NBA Finals in the compressed 2020-21 schedule. They lost in six games to the Milwaukee Bucks.

Phoenix went 64-18 and finished as the West’s top seed in 2021-22. Williams was named Coach of the Year, but the Suns were knocked out in the second round by the Dallas Mavericks.

This season, they slipped to 45-37 and another second-round loss, this time to the championship-bound Denver Nuggets.

Now he’s going to have to restart that process in Detroit.

The Pistons had the worst record in the league at 17-65 but were unlucky in the draft lottery, getting the fifth pick. They’ve gone seven years without a winning season and haven’t won a playoff game since Game 4 of the 2008 Eastern Conference Finals.

Detroit has a promising young core in Cade Cunningham, Jaden Ivey and Jalen Duren, but Cunningham missed most of last season with a stress fracture.

“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. “When I talk to them, they look me in the eye, which is impressive. When I text them, they get right back to me. There’s a hunger and a desire there.”