If an algorithm existed that would spit out the ideal head coach for every NBA team’s situation, the Pistons search for Dwane Casey’s successor could not have hoped for a better outcome than what they’ve landed on: Monty Williams.
Williams is exactly the right combination of teacher, temperament, visionary, tactician and philosopher that a roster teeming with as many talented young players as general manager Troy Weaver has put in the pipeline needed to take its next steps.
“After spending some time with Monty, it’s clear that he’s found a unique balance between achieving victory at the highest level while at the same time nurturing a culture of growth, development and inspiration,” Pistons owner Tom Gores said. “I’m beyond excited. This is a huge win for us.”
What Pistons fans want most is assurance the next steps they’re now poised to take translate into more wins. That’s the full expectation, from Gores – whose unswerving commitment to building a champion is defined by this successful pursuit of arguably the most desirable coaching candidate from a distinguished field – on down. The days of living at the bottom of the standings are over.
“I couldn’t be more proud to have Monty joining us at this important time to lead us into the next decade of our future,” Gores said. “He embodies all of the qualities we want in a leader for our Pistons franchise, and most importantly a teacher and mentor for our players. He will have an impact on every aspect of our franchise, on and off the court.”
Williams’ track record of player development at New Orleans and Phoenix, where promising young players like Anthony Davis, Mikal Bridges and several others blossomed on his watch, and of pushing the buttons that allow talented young players to grow into cohesive young teams made him the ideal candidate to take the baton from Casey and push Weaver’s restoration forward.
Maybe Davis, who went from 13.5 points and 8.2 rebounds the year before Williams arrived to 20.8 and 10.0 in year one under him, would have been great under any circumstances. But the way Bridges (8.3 points and 3.2 rebounds pre-Williams, 14.3 and 4.2 in year one and 20.1 and 4.4 in year two with him) and Cam Johnson (8.8 and 3.3 pre-Williams, 12.5 and 4.1 in year one and 15.5 and 4.4 in year two with him) flowered in Phoenix seems a harbinger of what Pistons fans can anticipate on his watch here with six key players 22 or younger.
Cade Cunningham, Jaden Ivey, Jalen Duren, Isaiah Stewart, Killian Hayes and James Wiseman are primed to take similar leaps forward. They now have a leader proven in accelerating that process.
It was four years ago Williams took over a 19-win Phoenix team. He nearly doubled that in season one, winning 34, and then coached the Suns to 51 wins and the NBA Finals in his second season – where it took all of Giannis Antetokounmpo’s wondrous abilities to prevent the first title in Suns franchise history.
Williams, in fact, becomes the second coach in NBA history – five-time Pistons All-Star Gene Shue the other – to take over two teams coming off seasons in which they won fewer than 20 games according to ESPN Stats & Info. It’s almost impossible to find a coach with a track record of success in overseeing quick, dramatic turnarounds. The Pistons team of Gores and Weaver found one and convinced him Detroit was the situation right for both him and them over several other reported overtures for Williams’ services.
Weaver vowed upon arrival three years ago to re-create the blueprint that made the Bad Boys and Goin’ to Work era Pistons NBA champions. Those teams were led by Hall of Fame coaches, Chuck Daly and Larry Brown. Nothing was more important than the relationships those recognized basketball geniuses forged with their key players.
The 1989 and ’90 Pistons don’t become champions if Daly and Isiah Thomas didn’t click and the 2004 Pistons wouldn’t have, either, if Brown and Chauncy Billups hadn’t struck their harmony. That coach-quarterback relationship is so utterly critical to team success and it ripples through the rest of the roster. Certainly Daly had to win over Joe Dumars and Dennis Rodman and Brown the same with Ben Wallace and Rip Hamilton and their running mates, but it starts with the coach and the guy who has the ball in his hands to dictate the terms of how their team executes.
The ingredients are now in place for a third great Pistons era with a coach on a Hall of Fame track and a young star who shows every characteristic necessary to become a worthy successor to the Pistons heritage of brilliant backcourt players.
So let’s start with the Monty Williams-Cade Cunningham union. And here we get to the aspect of this hire that should most excite Pistons fans and inspire confidence this journey is about to become fascinating and, ultimately, exhilarating.
Everything we know about Williams and everything we know about Cunningham screams inspired pairing. Both have the sort of emotional IQ that will make for an open relationship where appraisals are delivered and received with mutual respect. It’s the basis required for every successful coach-star marriage. No union of two partners is ever conflict-free, but the greatest unions result when differences are aired and the best ideas from either side come together to make the whole something greater than the sum of its parts.
It was critical the Pistons hired a coach worthy of Cunningham’s talent and his respect and Williams hits every mark on that score. Cunningham has immediately won over Pistons veterans in his two seasons with the Pistons.
“This is Cade’s room,” Kelly Olynyk said as Cunningham’s rookie season – his rookie season! – came to a close. “That’s what we need from him – as a point guard, as a leader, as the future of Detroit and the Pistons.”
Bojan Bogdanovic voiced similar sentiments not even a month into his tenure with the Pistons last season, a big part of the reason Bogdanovic was excited about signing a contract extension to stay in Detroit shortly after his September trade acquisition.
The Pistons have every confidence Williams will be a home-run hire for Cunningham’s development as a player and a leader – and their fans should, too. That will have a domino effect on the rest of the young core – Ivey and Duren, Wiseman and Stewart, Hayes and Marvin Bagley III, Isaiah Livers and on and on and on … with the No. 5 pick in this month’s draft about to enter the fold. Add to that the bounty of cap space at Weaver’s disposal and there you have the basis for the faith the Pistons had in their decision to pursue a top-of-the-market coach at this very moment. They’re ready for takeoff.
Among the many things driving that belief: Williams’ peers, NBA head coaches, voted him their NBCA Coach of the Year in both 2021 and ’22. Think about that a minute. NBA head coaches, uniquely qualified to judge the body of work of NBA head coaches, thought Monty Williams was the best of them two consecutive seasons.
Gores – whose commitment to giving his franchise every resource possible to grow a champion is proven again by what’s being reported as a relentless pursuit – and his team will go into the Monty Williams era with a firm belief they have the absolute ideal coach to grow this promising young core into a team whose seasons will end not in April but in May and eventually in June. It’s why Gores wouldn’t let his pursuit of Williams end without sealing the deal.
“I was able to spend some time with Monty and members of his family, and it was clear that he’s not only a great coach and leader, but a man of great character who shares our goal to be impactful on and off the court. Dwane Casey, who has transitioned into a front-office role, helped set the table and guided the early development of our young core. We now have a talented young team ready to step up to the next level and I have committed to providing every resource possible to maximize their potential. We are investing in Monty and he is investing in us. We’re excited to have him.”
It's almost as if they put everything they were looking for in a new coach into an intelligent search engine and wound up getting the only one that checked off every conceivable box. Buckle up. It’s about to get very real for the Pistons.