Pistons fire Monty Williams 1 year after inking coach to 6-year, $78.5 million deal

Monty Williams is out as head coach of the Detroit Pistons, the team announced Wednesday. Pistons owner Tom Gores made the call to move on from Williams over the last 24 hours, per team sources.

Williams signed one of the largest contracts in NBA history last June and has about $60 million left on the six-year deal. The decision to part with him comes after a season in which Detroit finished with a franchise-worst 14 wins and endured a historic 28-game losing streak that started four games into the season and didn’t end until Dec. 30.

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“Decisions like these are difficult to make, and I want to thank Monty for his hard work and dedication,” Gores said in a statement Wednesday. “Coaching has many dynamic challenges that emerge during a season and Monty always handled those with grace. However, after reviewing our performance carefully and assessing our current position as organization, we will chart a new course moving forward.”

The Pistons’ abysmal 2023-24 campaign was a further fall into the abyss during a rebuild that began in 2020 and hasn’t made any progress in the win-loss column. Gores told reporters in December that change would be coming, and while the organization made several acquisitions leading up to the trade deadline, the recent hiring of Trajan Langdon as Detroit’s new president of basketball operations was the type of alteration many fans anticipated sooner.

While doing interviews during the hiring process for the role that Langdon landed, Gores told candidates they would have free rein to fire and hire whom they please, with money being no object, per team and league sources.

To keep his job going into this upcoming season, Williams had to be evaluated and, essentially, go through the interview process with Langdon. The expectation was that Williams would present a thorough plan as to how he could improve the Pistons on the court, according to team and league sources.

Williams would not only have to convince the new president of his path forward, but then those two would have had to convince Gores. Additionally, those involved with the decision to retain or move on from Williams wanted to know for certain if he was truly committed to coaching a team in a rebuilding situation. Team sources said that the organization has been on the hunt for complete synergy from the top down this offseason.

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Williams was hired with the expectations of helping a young Detroit team take steps in the right direction after winning only 17 games in 2022-23. After being underwhelmed with the candidates presented to him during the hiring process in April and May 2023, Gores pulled out the red carpet and successfully landed Williams — whom the Phoenix Suns had recently fired and whose wife was in the midst of a battle with cancer — with an offer he couldn’t refuse.

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Gores’ offer consisted of a contract that could reach $100 million with incentives and came with extra health benefits and access to a private plane for Williams, who initially turned the job down, and his family to use while his wife was in the midst of her battle. This is what Williams had to say as to why he took the job at his introductory news conference:

“The quick answer is (Weaver), the players and the money. That’s something people don’t talk about. They say it wasn’t the money. I laugh at that. I think it’s disrespectful. … When someone is that generous to pay me that type of money, for one, it should be applauded and, two, it should be talked about. … I like the process of building. I like seeing players get better. I like seeing a guy for the first time understand what it takes to navigate crunchtime situations. These jobs are privileges, and there are only 30 of them, and I look at it that way.”

The weekend before Christmas, with the Pistons in the thick of their historic losing streak and just two wins on the season, Gores spoke to select reporters, including The Athletic, via video call and admitted he was more involved on the day-to-day side than he was in the past because of the funk his team found itself in and no obvious answer in sight.

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“I’m down to Monty and I talking about rotations. I don’t normally do that,” Gores said. “Monty is so good and knows what he’s doing, he’s open to even talking about it. We do have to change something. I can’t tell you what it exactly is. We’re diving in pretty hard. We’re probably two weeks ahead of you guys. Our disappointment is catching up to us too. We expected a lot more.

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“We have to be real and realize that there are things that haven’t been working with the makeup of the team. Sure, we should have won a few more games, but how many of those games? Three or four? Who knows what that number is. We’re not set up like the way we need to be set up. … I expect change. I don’t think any narrative here at all should be that there’s no change. Change is coming. I’m just saying that in terms of Monty, Troy, all of that stuff … they will be in place, but I’m all over them. They’ll tell you that too. There’s a lot of accountability that needs to be held. There might be additions to staff and all of that stuff. What’s for sure is that change is coming. We’re not right, right now. We have to add and delete. We’re on it already. We will make changes. We will make them. We don’t know exactly what they’ll be yet.”

While Williams didn’t have the best roster to work with (and injuries at the beginning of the season didn’t make things any better), he, along with everyone involved, played a part in Detroit’s epic losing skid. He started 2020 No. 7 pick Killian Hayes for the bulk of the team’s first 30 games. The Pistons were open to trading or moving on from Hayes last summer, per team and league sources. By every metric, Hayes was one of the least efficient scorers not just currently in the NBA, but also the history of the game. However, Hayes’ 6-foot-5 frame, ball movement and sometimes passable defense intrigued Williams from afar, and the coach wanted a chance to try to revive the lottery pick’s career. Hayes has been out of the NBA since Detroit waived him on Feb. 8.

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Furthermore, Williams’ trust in Hayes came at the detriment of Jaden Ivey, the No. 5 pick in 2023 who had earned All-Rookie honors in his first year. After starting all of his inaugural season, Ivey began his second season coming off the bench.

Ivey wasn’t perfect the season prior. He needed to improve defensively and as a decision-maker. Some habits needed to be broken, but Williams prioritized the in-game development of Hayes, with whom the organization was prepared to part over its top-five pick from the year before. Ivey coming off the bench wasn’t the issue. Ivey coming off the bench and playing fewer minutes than Hayes for the season’s first two months is where the questions started to swirl.

Detroit had a middle-of-the-season organizational meeting, and one thing that was pointed out to Williams by staff was that Ivey as the lead ballhandler hadn’t happened much.

“I have to eat it,” Williams said. “I wish I did it earlier.”

Williams committed to playing all-bench lineups for much of the season, despite having a roster that probably shouldn’t have gone more than seven or eight deep. There was very little staggering of franchise cornerstones Cade Cunningham and Ivey for much of the season when the latter, eventually, became a starter in December. Per NBA.com, from Oct. 25 through Dec. 25, Detroit’s bench played the 13th most minutes in the NBA despite carrying the worst plus-minus in the league. Additionally, the Pistons’ bench had the league’s worst net rating of any bench. Yet, Williams continued to trot out reserve-heavy lineups.

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No single person is to blame for Detroit’s total failure of a season. Losing of this magnitude trickles down the entire organization. However, the owner isn’t going to fire himself, and the Pistons could not afford to bring back all of the key decision-makers from the worst season in franchise history.

Langdon, via Gores, was given the freedom to do with the organization as he saw fit, and he decided to clean house.

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(Photo: Tim Nwachukwu / Getty Images)

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