Oklahoma City Thunder: Monty Williams makes sense to add to staff
Billy Donovan has now been on the job as Thunder coach for a month, yet he still hasn’t finalized his staff.
A task that some think will be Donovan’s most significant in his transition from college to the NBA continues to lag.
The holdup could be a product of the Thunder patiently waiting to see how this year’s coaching carousel turns out, with the team slow-playing the process to learn what other coaches might become available. Reported Thunder target Andy Greer, for instance, was just relived of his duties, along with Tom Thibodeau, by Chicago on Thursday.
But with Orlando hiring Scott Skiles on Friday and New Orleans filling its vacancy with Alvin Gentry on Saturday, it’s natural to wonder how much longer the Thunder can wait before the best assistants get gobbled up.
Several names have been reported as preferred Thunder candidates, prominent former head coaches such as Mike Brown and Mo Cheeks. Brian Keefe and Nate Tibbetts, two current assistants with Thunder ties, have been mentioned as possibilities as well.
But the name that makes sense in many ways is Monty Williams, the recently-fired Pelicans coach who also is believed to be on the Thunder’s short list. Williams has the credentials that could be the exact stuff many say Donovan needs by his side in a lead assistant.
Williams played in the NBA for nine seasons, his last coming during the 2002-03 season with Philadelphia. Though far from a star, Williams’ playing career gives him cachet and credibility with players that other coaches without his resume might not have. With his experience, he could better relate to the players.
Williams also has rare coaching experience. At only 43 years old, he’s already compiled five years of head coaching experience, all coming with New Orleans, as well as another five years as an assistant in Portland. Williams also has served as an assistant coach for Team USA since 2013, coaching alongside Mike Krzyzewski, Jim Boeheim and Thibodeau. Prior to his stint with the Blazers, Williams won a championship while serving as a coaching staff intern in San Antonio in 2005, when Thunder general manager Sam Presti was then a front office executive with the Spurs.
Of course, the drawback to Williams being so young but so experienced is the likelihood of him not being long for Oklahoma City. If it’s stability and continuity the Thunder seeks in the lead assistant position, Williams might not be the right man. He easily could get another head coaching job in the near future, especially if the Thunder is once again a championship contender.
But perhaps the positives Williams brings outweigh the threat of him bolting sooner rather than later.
Williams has a reputation for being a teacher, an effective communicator and a tireless worker. His values, principles and discipline, meanwhile, embody what the Thunder envisions for its culture.
On the court, Williams has a knack for player development. We all know what Pelicans power forward Anthony Davis has blossomed into. But it was Williams’ ability to turn journeymen and castoffs such as Jason Smith, Gustavo Ayon, Luke Babbitt, Al-Farouq Aminu, Greivis Vasquez and Robin Lopez into serviceable if not solid rotation players that stands out most during his time in New Orleans. The Thunder would hope for similar results for a cast of players who, for the most part, are more talented, players like Dion Waiters, Enes Kanter, Steven Adams, Mitch McGary and Kyle Singler.
As an X’s and O’s coach, Williams was a work in progress while with the Pelicans. He garnered heaps of praise for his ability to draw up sharp plays out of timeouts and often kept defenses guessing with creative sets. But some of his in-game decisions, as well as his teams’ end-of-game execution, often got called into question.
Game 3 of this year’s first round series against Golden State, when the Pelicans blew a 20-point, fourth-quarter lead, is perhaps Williams’ most damning moment. It wasn’t just the colossal collapse. It was also the final straw, when, with his team trailing by one with 25 seconds remaining, Williams waited 10 seconds before instructing his players to foul.
Williams also has been criticized for his rotations, for making strange substitutions and utilizing odd combinations at odd and critical times. Despite carrying a reputation as a defensive-minded coach, Williams’ teams ranked in the top half of the league’s best defensive-rated teams only once in his five-year tenure. And that was in his first season. In each of the last three seasons, the Pelicans ranked in the bottom third in points allowed per 100 possessions despite annually playing at one of the league’s slowest paces.
In Williams’ defense, in all but his first season with the Pelicans he had a young roster that fielded only a few stout defenders and was flooded with injuries.
But in an assistant’s role, Williams would be exempt from making many of the critical decisions he sometimes struggled with in New Orleans.
The question the Thunder must debate is whether Williams’ strengths outweigh his weaknesses.