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HomeBasketballNBAMonty Williams hire puts Pistons back in the spotlight

Monty Williams hire puts Pistons back in the spotlight

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For the first time in a long time, the Detroit Pistons are one of the biggest stories in the NBA.

The Pistons on Wednesday night announced the imminent hiring of recently-fired Phoenix Suns head coach Monty Williams to a massive six-year, $78.5 million contract.

The deal makes Williams the highest-paid coach in the NBA, ahead of title-winning coaches like Gregg Popovich, Steve Kerr and NBA Finals-bound Erik Spoelstra. That tells me Williams is going to do more than coach the team. I don’t think he’ll be wrestling away any power from Pistons GM Troy Weaver, but Williams most certainly will have some say-so in roster moves.

It’s a great move for the Pistons. Williams has proven he can lead a winning team. The Phoenix Suns didn’t win a title in his four years with the team, but Phoenix in Williams’ last three years had the best record in the NBA. Williams was named Coach of the Year in 2022 after leading the Suns to a league-high 64 wins.

Next season will be Williams’ 10th as a head coach, in addition to serving six years as an assistant. Players like him. He’s got an interesting philosophy that ties basketball into other aspects of life. Player development is one of his strengths, DeAndre Ayton aside.

The Pistons offense will change drastically under Williams, which should have fans excited. Gone are the days where multiple players would sprint down court looking to post up. Williams likes players to make quick decisions out of the triple threat position, which keeps defenses on their toes.

The money is guaranteed, but it’s unlikely Williams lasts through the entirety of the deal. Just in the last month, the Bucks canned Mike Budenholzer two seasons after leading the franchise to its first title in 50 years.

This in theory has to speed up Detroit’s timeline. Williams is going from a title contender to a team that has been a bottom feeder the last handful of years. Over the last four seasons, Detroit has won a total of 80 games, seven less than the 1996 Bulls did in that regular season and playoff run. If they’re healthy, the Pistons should challenge for at least a play-in spot. The team has some building blocks in guards Cade Cunningham and Jaden Ivey, a big man Jalen Duren. Wing Bojan Bogdanovic is 34, but still productive.

Those are pieces Williams obviously believes he can work with, but the roster needs work.

Detroit will have about $40 million in cap space to spend this offseason. The 2023 free agent class is underwhelming, but there are players in positions that could help the Pistons right away. Wing Cam Johnson, who played most of his four-year career under Williams in Phoenix before being dealt to Brooklyn in February for Kevin Durant, is a restricted free agent with a qualifying offer of a shade over $8 million. Johnson missed half the season, but put up career highs in points, rebounds and assists. Detroit has to do its due diligence and sign Johnson to an offer sheet. Wizards forward Kyle Kuzma is another name to watch. The Flint, Michigan, native this season put up career highs of 21.7 points, 7.2 rebounds and 3.7 assists per game. Kuzma coming off a year like that is sure to decline his $13 million player option. He may want to get back into a bigger market after contributing to a title for the Lakers in 2020, but bringing Kuzma home is another option for the Pistons.

Detroit could also take a swing at another Michigan product.

Draymond Green has a player option for next season of more than $25 million, which I expect him to decline in favor of signing a new long-term deal. But are the Warriors likely to extend a player whose offensive game has declined every year the last handful of seasons? Especially considering the team is heading into salary cap hell? Draymond’s value to Golden State isn’t in his scoring. It’s everything else he brings: the passing, playmaking, defense, leadership. It might be worth it for Detroit to overpay for that leadership. Green could be the catalyst in establishing a new culture in the locker room. I’d guess he wants to continue to play for championships, but trying to lure Green to Detroit could prove to be a major coup for the Pistons.

No matter what moves are made this offseason, the Pistons must show marked improvement over the last four seasons. There’s precedent for it. The Cleveland Cavaliers won 22 games two seasons ago and grew to a 51-win team this season. The Sacramento Kings won 30 games in 2021-22 and this season made the playoffs for the first time since 2006. Those improvements came with both teams having pretty young cores.

Now it’s the Pistons turn.

It’s time for Detroit to go back to work.

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