When the Phoenix Suns fired head coach Monty Williams in May, more than a few heads were scratched.
To some, the move made some sense, given the embarrassing manner in which the Suns have been eliminated from the playoffs the last three years (those include a pair of blowout home losses in elimination games, and losing four straight games to the Bucks in the 2021 NBA Finals after winning the first two.)
But to others, the move simply made no sense.
Williams wasn’t just the 2022 NBA Coach of the Year, nor was he just the guy with a sterling 194-115 regular season record (and a 27-19 record in the playoffs) in the Valley of the Sun.
The 51-year-old head coach was also the guy who turned around a culture of losing and ineptitude that had infected the Phoenix Suns for years following the departure of former league MVP Steve Nash after the 2012 season.
That’s a lot of years of losing until Williams arrived in 2019. After one year of building up the young roster, Williams spent the last three seasons in Phoenix winning more games than any other coach in that span.
Just as importantly, Williams helped mold and develop franchise superstar Devin Booker from a one-dimensional scorer to an all-around star. Heck, the culture that Williams cultivated was the same one that attracted superstar Kevin Durant, who arrived via trade last season.
That’s a lot of positives to turn one’s nose at.
But one team’s loss is another’s gain — but what a costly gain it is for the Detroit Pistons.
Per ESPN, Williams has come to an agreement on a mammoth six-year, $78.5 million contract with the moribund Detroit Pistons, with the Motor City front office banking (literally) on Williams turning the franchise around like he did in Phoenix.
The contract is the “largest coaching deal in NBA history,” according to ESPN.
There is an obvious and considerable risk on the part of the Pistons. Any $78.5 million investment presents some sort of risk.
But for the Pistons, this is a risk well worth taking. Williams, for whatever faults he may have as a coach, works particularly well as a mentor for young men (his issues stem more from when that young team gets older and begins grappling with expectations) and the Pistons are a very young team.
Pistons star guard Cade Cunningham is just 21 years old. The team actually has a glut of talented, young big men. Jalen Duren is 19, Marvin Bagley III is 24, Isaiah Stewart is 22, and James Wiseman is also just 22.
The best part of Williams coaching and mentoring such young talent?
Much of the wisdom that Williams departs stems from his own personal deep well of faith.
Williams is a very public Christian, even dating back to when he first burst onto the coaching scene as an assistant coach for the Philadelphia 76ers.
“I always tell people God makes me look much better than I deserve, and that’s just where it is for me,” Williams told Andscape in 2018. “I don’t like coming off with the fake humility stuff.”
Williams continued: “There’s a lot of times within the faith, as a Christian, that most people think we walk around like we have it together, and I just got to be straight with you. The longer you’re walking with the Lord, it’s the exact opposite. It’s like way on the other end. I need the Lord because I don’t have it together. I am broken. I am flawed no matter how I’m viewed.”
Eerily, Williams actually addressed specifically in 2018 why “not getting signed” wouldn’t be an issue for him thanks to his powerful faith.
“Whether it’s winning or losing or getting a contract or not getting signed by a team and all the in-between, my faith allows me to hopefully have something to hold onto that’s much bigger than sports,” Williams said.
“You realize you’re not the cat’s meow. Most athletes, we feel like we can overcome and withstand anything. There’s been a few times in my career where I couldn’t change the consequences with lifting more weights or getting more shots or whatever the case may have been. And that’s when you realize how small you are and how much you need a relationship with God. And I felt like that was where I started to grow.”
Growth, again, is the core strength of Williams’ coaching acumen.
Growth will be what turns the Pistons into perennial playoff contenders. Growth is what turned the Suns into perennial playoff contenders after years of failure.
And that growth is rooted in Williams’ faith.
This article appeared originally on The Western Journal.