The Phoenix Suns have hired Monty Williams, currently an assistant coach with the Philadelphia 76ers, to be the 20th head coach in the history of the franchise.
ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reported that a deal was being finalized this morning, and the Suns official Twitter account confirmed it a few minutes later.
Williams and the 76ers are coming off a huge Game 3 win against the Toronto Raptors last night, taking a 2-1 lead in their best-of-seven series. Because Philadelphia is still alive in the playoffs, his hiring process was a little unusual. It was no secret that the Suns coveted the 47-year old coach, with Kevin Zimmerman of Arizona Sports 98.7FM reporting that they chased him across the continent to secure his signature.
The Suns flew out to Toronto, where the 76ers were preparing for their second-round playoff series, and met with Williams on Friday. The team then flew to Portland and met with Trail Blazers assistants Nate Tibbetts and David Vanterpool.
Williams replaces Igor Kokoskov, who lasted just one season as the Suns’ head coach, and the new guy certainly has his work cut out for him in the desert.
The Suns are coming off a 19-63 season, tied with the Cleveland Cavaliers for second-worst mark in the NBA. That .232 win percentage is the worst record for the franchise since posting just 16 wins in its expansion season of 1968-69. The team has produced a winning record just once over the last eight years and has a win percentage below .300 in four consecutive seasons.
Here’s what you need to know about the man tasked with turning it around:
1. Williams May Have Spurned the Lakers for the Suns
Williams was the hottest head coaching candidate of off the offseason, and the Suns weren’t the only team in pursuit. There were persistent reports throughout the process that the Lakers also wanted to bring Williams in to help get LeBron James and the Lakers back into the playoff picture.
“Those are the two candidates that the Lakers are planning to choose from to make an offer to. There are so many people in that Laker organization involved in this decision-making process. From ownership into senior management, general manager Rob Pelinka. There are cases being made on both sides: for Ty Lue and for Monty Williams.
However, despite their reported interest, it seems that the Lakers never made an official offer to Williams.
2. He Didn’t Find Success in His First Head Coaching Stint
It’s the second time that Williams has been brought in to guide an NBA franchise. In 2010, he was hired as the head coach of the New Orleans Hornets, now called the Pelicans.
He held that job for five full seasons, but it wasn’t a successful stint by any measure. While he guided the Hornets to a 46-36 record and a first-round playoff exit his first campaign, his teams would miss the postseason in each of the next three seasons, finishing fifth in the division every time. Williams found his way back into the playoffs in his fifth and final season but was again knocked out in the first round, leading to his dismissal.
In all, he’s amassed a 173-221 record (.439) as a head coach.
3. Williams is a Former First-Round NBA Draft Pick
The new Suns coach started his playing career at the University of Notre Dame, where his 22.4-point career average helped make him an honorable mention All American.
He was drafted 24th overall by the New York Knicks in 1994, but the small forward never quite lived up to his pedigree, spending time with the Knicks, Spurs, Nuggets, Magic, and 76ers over the course of his nine-year playing career.
Williams averaged 6.3 points during his time in the NBA, reaching a zenith in the 1996-97 season with the Spurs when he averaged 9.0 points in 20.7 minutes per game. However, a recurring knee issue sent him into early retirement after the 2003 season.
4. He Experienced a ‘Miracle’ Reversal of Life-Threatening Heart Condition
During a routine physical at Notre Dame in 1990, doctors heard an unusual murmur in Williams’ heart, leading to an eventual diagnosis of hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM), a condition with potentially fatal consequences.
It’s the same heart disease that took the life of Hank Gathers, a star basketball player from Loyola Marymount University who collapsed on the court and died during a game earlier that year.
Williams was told that the same thing could happen to him with extreme physical activity, and in a 2013 interview, he talked about the effect the diagnosis had on him.
“When you’re 18 years old, you can’t process that kind of information. One day, I’m playing on the team. I’m bench pressing 300 and whatever pounds and jumping 40 inches off the ground and the next day, they tell me I can’t play basketball anymore,” Williams says. “To hear that news, it was devastating. It was something I never want to feel again. It was no emotion at all. You can’t even muster any emotion because you don’t know where to go.”
But in what Williams describes as a miracle, two years later, a battery of tests revealed that all HCM symptoms had mysteriously disappeared — his heart disease was gone and he was free to continue his playing career.
5. His Wife Died in a 2016 Car Crash
Tragedy struck in in 2016 when Williams, then a member of the Oklahoma City Thunder coaching staff, learned that his wife of 20 years had been killed in a car crash.
“Let us not forget that there were two people in this situation, and that family needs prayer as well. We have no ill will towards that family. In my house we have a sign that says ‘as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.’ We can not serve the Lord if we don’t have a heart of forgiveness.”