How the Tom Gores, Troy Weaver meeting with Monty Williams sealed the deal for the next Detroit Pistons head coach

Vince Ellis
Special for Pistons.com

Over the last four seasons as coach of the Phoenix Suns, Monty Williams has won … a lot.

A branch growing from San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich’s coaching tree, Williams had a nearly 63 percent winning percentage during his Suns tenure, and led Phoenix to the 2021 NBA Finals. A year later, after leading the Suns to a 64-18 record, he was named the NBA Coach of the Year.

And he is the next Detroit Pistons head coach.

The Pistons formally introduced one of the top coaching names in the league Tuesday afternoon at the Henry Ford-Pistons Performance Center, and it didn’t take long for him to reveal a major factor in his decision-making process – his wife’s recent breast cancer diagnosis.

The health scare had Williams seriously contemplating taking the year off, but after a patient and ultimately collaborative coaching search led by general manager Troy Weaver and Pistons owner Tom Gores that was bolstered by a fateful Memorial Day weekend meeting at Gores’ southern California home, the Pistons landed Williams.

It was a festive scene at the PPC with current players and members of Williams’ family joining former coach turned front office executive Dwane Casey, Pistons executives and employees, the ownership group and local media in welcoming Williams. Applause greeted Williams when he was formally announced. When Gores, Williams and Weaver later posed for photos, they all beamed proudly.

“Monty, thank you for believing,” Gores said. “The MVP in all of this in being able to get Monty is his family. Everybody else wanted him and I think we're lucky enough to have him.”

Williams, 51, replaces Casey, who moves into a front office role after five seasons patrolling the sidelines at Little Caesars Arena. Williams inherits a young core of promising young players which include Cade Cunningham, Jaden Ivey, Jalen Duren, the upcoming fifth overall pick of the NBA draft and others. Reportedly, Williams has agreed to a six-year deal worth more than $78 million, a major financial commitment from Gores.

“I want to have success here to the point where people think I'm from Detroit, the way that they think (ex-Piston, former Detroit mayor) Dave Bing is from Detroit, even though he's from D.C.,” Williams said. “I want have that kind of impact here.

“I'm marrying myself to the job, and I told the players this morning I'm going to give them everything I have because it is a franchise that has a rich history.”

With the NBA crowning the Denver Nuggets as NBA champions on Monday night, the Pistons were able to garner some spotlight with the well-received hiring of Williams.

“Monty wanted to partner with us and lead the charge because of the work that our players have put in, and we're going to continue to stand on that, continue to do things the right way,” Weaver said. “Now that we have a new coach, new leader, we're ready for this next step. I'm just grateful to ownership for providing resources and support.

Here’s the story of how Weaver, Gores and the Pistons landed Williams.

‘It wouldn't have happened but for Tom’

Williams wasn’t available when Casey announced after the final game of the season that he was ending his coaching career.

The Suns finished the regular season at 45-37, which earned the Western Conference’s fourth seed. After the trade deadline acquisition of superstar Kevin Durant, the Suns were considered one of the favorites.  But after the Suns fell in the second round of the NBA playoffs to the Nuggets, Williams was fired.

Weaver immediately reached out to Williams (the two men worked together in Oklahoma City), but he said he was strongly considering taking the year off, although he indicated he found the Pistons job intriguing because of Cunningham and the young core. After the initial talk, Williams called back several days later to indicate he was taking the year off.

“I had a situation in my family that needed attention,” Williams said. “I talked to my wife today about whether or not we should talk about that publicly, but that was a huge part of my decision making. My wife found out that she had breast cancer during the playoffs.”

Early signs are promising, and she encouraged Williams to share the details of her cancer diagnosis to bring awareness.

But in the meantime, the Pistons continued their search and zeroed in on three candidates: Overtime Elite coach Kevin Ollie, Milwaukee Bucks assistant coach Charles Lee and New Orleans Pelican assistant Jarron Collins.

But Gores suggested the Pistons retain optionality and consider other possibilities. The Pistons continued the process, scheduling Lee and Ollie for a second round of interviews with Gores in Los Angeles.

But during a call with Weaver, vice chairman Arn Tellem, assistant general manager George David and alternate governor Mark Barnhill, Gores pressed for other options. Several names were mentioned, but none were clearly identified.

The following day, Gores suggested reaching out to Williams again and get more into the specifics about what an offer would entail. Gores also wanted to lean into the human side and meet Williams in person. Everyone thought it was a good idea and to their surprise, Williams was interested. Williams had discussed it with his agent and his wife, who gave her blessing for Williams to pursue the job.

“I've got to give Tom credit because, and you see why he's such a successful deal maker, and that if he's interested or wants something or thinks it's just good for his business or good for the Pistons, he's going to leave no stone unturned,” Tellem said.

Gores acted fast, instructing Weaver to engage with Williams. Gores offered to dispatch his private plane to Phoenix that day if Williams was amenable to a meeting. He was on a plane to L.A. from Phoenix by that afternoon, and the two men met at Gores’ southern California home.

Williams brough along two of his six kids and they bonded with Gores’ daughter, Amanda.

The two men immediately hit it off. Gores gave him a tour of his Beverly Hills home. Williams was familiar with a breed of dog that Gores’ son, Charles, owns.

Williams let it be known that he was eager to work with Weaver, recalling their days together in Oklahoma City.  By the time the meeting ended, there was a path forward.

“It was just one of those nights that allowed for us to be real,” Williams said. To be honest with you, I committed that night. I told them that if everything worked out with my wife, this was the place that I wanted to be. There wasn’t anything special about that night. We ate, we talked, we referenced (football coach Tony Dungy) a couple of times. He's a hero of mine, but it was just a normal conversation.

The executive team contacted Williams’ agent and also had the legal team start working on the makings of a deal.

As the next day unfolded, there were a flurry of phone calls to work through the contours of an offer. Between those calls, Tellem was in contact with Williams’ agent with Weaver remaining in constant contact with Williams.

At around 9 p.m. on Memorial Day, Tellem was directed to bring the deal to a verbal agreement. That agreement was reached overnight, and Williams was on his way to becoming the 37th coach in franchise history. The process and healthy debate provided the desired outcome.

“I wouldn't call it a yelling match at all, it's just that we discussed how important it was to deliver to our players,” Gores said. “We have great young players, their characters are great so we felt the responsibility to deliver. We've gone through a lot. We've gone through some pain, but like any good thing, you have to go through some pain.

“I understand that we took a long time. I heard all the stuff that Troy and I are not making decisions or Troy and I are not agreeing, but we agreed most of the time.”

Right place, right time

The news of Williams’ hiring came just over three weeks after the franchise suffered a gut punch. After suffering through a 17-65 season, the worst mark in the league, the Pistons hoped to land the top pick for the upcoming NBA Draft. French big man Victor Wembanyama is the most-hyped prospect since LeBron James went No. 1 overall to the Cleveland Cavaliers in 2003.

But fortune shined on the Spurs, who won the lottery. The Pistons endured the worst possible outcome and will pick fifth on June 22.

That makes for perfect timing when it comes to Williams’ arrival.

“I was really down after the lottery, still slowly recovering, but this to me may be just as good as winning the lottery,” Tellem said. “We may not have won the player lottery, but we won the coaching lottery thanks to Tom and his insistence that we hire the very best possible coach to lead the team.

To get an outstanding coach like Monty to come here is a huge win for the players and the franchise and for the city of Detroit.”

Despite the recent struggles, Williams inherits a young nucleus. The Pistons’ last two rookies –Cunningham and Ivey – have shown great promise and will likely hold spots in the starting backcourt in the coming years.

Williams is experienced with reclamation projects. The Suns won only 19 games the year before he was hired in Phoenix.

“I’m walking into a locker room with a great group of guys who want to get better,” Williams said. “You see the talent for sure. You see the size. When I talk to them, they all look me in the eye, which is impressive. I message them, and they get back to me right away, which is rare.

“There is a hunger. A desire. They all want it. It really gets to you when you think about it.”