Monty Williams

Pistons Notes: Sasser, Ivey, Duren, Losing Streak

It hasn’t taken long for Marcus Sasser to earn the trust of Pistons coach Monty Williams, writes James L. Edwards III of The Athletic. After being eased into the lineup during the first week of the season, Sasser has seen an expanded role in the past three games and has responded by averaging 16.3 points, 4.3 assists and 2.0 steals while shooting 62.5% from the field. He also hasn’t turned the ball over in five games, which is rare for a rookie guard.

“I feel like the work I put in is just paying off,” Sasser said. “The travel and amount of games is new to me, so that is something I have to adjust to, knowing how to take care of my body. On the court, it’s not really surprising.”

Sasser’s hot start will eventually lead to difficult decisions for Williams about how to allocate playing time in a crowded backcourt, Edwards adds. Sasser is getting an expanded opportunity because of injuries to Alec Burks and Monte Morris, but it will be difficult to find minutes for all of them along with Cade Cunningham, Killian Hayes and Jaden Ivey. For the moment, Sasser is taking advantage of his opportunity and may be on the verge of landing a starting role.

“He works his tail off,” Williams said after Sunday’s game. “He understands when to shoot, when to drive and he defends. There were times tonight when he was outmatched with a bigger guy, and he just kept fighting. He is the kind of player that we thought he was, and he’s just going to get better.”

There’s more from Detroit:

  • Williams offered an explanation for Ivey’s reduced role after being a full-time starter as a rookie, per Omari Sankofa II of The Detroit Free Press. Williams has placed an emphasis on defense and rebounding that Ivey hasn’t lived up to as much as the team’s other guards, but he said that frequently happens with young players. “He’s not the only guy that’s seen his minutes and all that reduced because of mistakes on the floor,” Williams said. “It’s happened with (Jalen Duren), it’s happened with Cade, it’s happened with everybody, because I think the standard that we have around here should be excellence. And you can’t have excellence if guys feel like they’re being gifted minutes. So it’s not just JI. Overall, we need guys to play to a certain level and hold them accountable to that every night.”
  • Duren’s inability to stay on the court has played a role in Detroit’s four-game losing streak, observes Mike Curtis of The Detroit News. Duren sat out Wednesday’s game against Portland with an ankle injury, was ejected late Thursday in a loss to New Orleans, then got tossed again Sunday against Phoenix after committing two flagrant fouls.
  • The current slump is presenting the first major challenge for the Pistons after a 2-1 start, states John Niyo of The Detroit News. The loss to the Suns, who were missing Devin Booker and Bradley Beal, marked the second straight against an undermanned opponent. “They were tougher than us,” Williams said. “They played harder than we did in stretches, pretty much most of the game. And the spacing certainly helps, but we just we had too many situations where we missed assignments. You don’t know an assignment on Kevin Durant, that’s a problem.”

Central Notes: Pistons, Williams, McConnell, P. Williams, Toppin

It’s only three games into the season but Pistons owner Tom Gores is already impressed with the impact head coach Monty Williams has made, Keith Langlois of writes. Gores coaxed Williams into coaching the team with a six-year, $78.5MM contract.

“He’s made a real difference,” Gores said. “We’re organized. What makes the most sense with Monty is he threads the needle everywhere. He knows how to have discipline, but he knows how to have compassion. He really threads the needle to me. He’s an experienced coach, but at the same time he’s modern and listens.”

Gores said he didn’t hire Williams to go through another rebuilding season.

“We wouldn’t bring somebody like Monty in if we had a bunch of players who weren’t ready,” he said. “It took us a bit to create this foundation – Cade (Cunningham), (Jaden) Ivey, (Isaiah) Stewart. This is a very strong foundation. They want to win as bad as anyone. Patience with progress, right? We need to make progress this year, absolutely.”

We have more from the Central Division:

  • T.J. McConnell got a chance to play with the Pacers’ second unit on Saturday and immediately provided a spark. He delivered eight points and eight assists in 19 minutes, Dustin Dopirak of the Indianapolis Star notes. “This morning I talked to the staff about, ‘Hey, let’s keep our eyes open and if there’s a point in the game where T.J. is the right guy, we have to pull the trigger decisively,'” coach Rick Carlisle said. “It was pretty clear in the first quarter that we needed him and what he brings.” McConnell is signed through next season but his $9.3MM salary for 2024/25 is only partially guaranteed for $5MM.
  • Patrick Williams didn’t receive a rookie scale extension from the Bulls and he hasn’t done anything to improve his value in the early going, Joe Cowley of the Chicago Sun-Times notes. He was limited to no points, three rebounds and one assist in 21 minutes in the Bulls’ 118-102 loss to Detroit on Saturday. Coach Billy Donovan isn’t ready to bench him. “I wouldn’t do it from the standpoint of, ‘Oh, I’m just taking him out of the starting lineup because he’s got to do this, this and this, and he’s not doing it,’ ’ Donovan said. However, a lineup change may be in order if Williams doesn’t deliver more production, with Torrey Craig or Alex Caruso among the candidates to replace him.
  • Pacers forward Obi Toppin, another player who didn’t receive a rookie scale extension, feels more comfortable with his new team. He believes limited minutes with the Knicks held back his development, according to Stefan Bondy of The New York Post. “I can learn from mistakes. I can get better,” he said. “I feel like it can take my game to another level.”

Pistons Notes: Cunningham, Williams, Rotation, Defense

Pistons guard Cade Cunningham made his return to regular season NBA basketball on Wednesday against the Heat after missing most of last season due to a shin injury. He didn’t take long to get into form, finishing with 30 points and nine assists in a narrow 103-102 loss to Miami.

Despite the loss, Cunningham made a statement in his return, orchestrating a 27-9 closing run that almost allowed Detroit to steal one from the Heat, as Omari Sankofa II of the Detroit Free Press writes.

It’s crazy to be back on the court, back with my brothers competing,” Cunningham said. “I’m just thankful and lucky to be doing what I do. I just kinda carried that with me and just wanted to play hard and stay in the moment and let the game be what it is.

According to Sankofa, Cunningham spent most of the offseason rehabbing in Miami in preparation for his return to league play.

I don’t think it’s a coincidence that we came back here for the first game,” Cunningham said. “It was meant to be for me, myself. I couldn’t be more proud of the team that I’m a part of, and just excited about the teammates that I have. I’m lucky to be around them every day. I don’t really think about my leg every day. I just think about what can I do for my team, and how can I help us.

While Cunningham made his return to NBA action on Wednesday, it wasn’t his first organized five-on-five playing experience this year. Cunningham played for the USA Select Team, scrimmaging against the USA Basketball World Cup Team this summer in front of Heat coach Erik Spoelstra, whom his team squared off against on Wednesday.

He made everybody watch, you remember that,” Spoelstra said. “But that’s what you expect when you’re a No. 1 draft pick. You have size, you have the full skill set, the vision, the handle, shooting. The way he plays the game offensively, it belies the years of his experience.

We have more notes from the Pistons:

  • Head coach Monty Williams has experience in raising the floors of NBA teams, bringing the Suns from a 19-win team to a 34-win team in 2019 and taking the Pelicans to the playoffs. Now, he’s being tasked with bringing one of the winningest franchises in league history back to the top with a young roster, The Athletic’s James L. Edwards III writes. Williams took the time to discuss whether players would be held to a higher standard this season than in the past. “I wouldn’t say shorter leash,” Williams said. “I’d just say it’s about growth. I’m not one to say you just play through mistakes. I don’t think that’s how players grow. I think too many guys, and this is just my opinion, have played through mistakes and picked up habits … Sometimes you got to pull [players] talk to him, show him and then get him back out there. Just allowing guys to play through repetitive mistakes, I’m just not sure that’s a recipe for success.
  • Williams started Cunningham, Killian Hayes, Ausar Thompson, Jalen Duren and Isaiah Stewart on Wednesday, and stuck to a 10-man rotation even with players absent to injury, Mike Curtis of The Detroit News observes. Curtis also notes Cunningham’s dominant return along with Stewart’s promising offensive and defensive play at the power forward position.
  • Even though the Pistons committed several self-inflicted wounds in their one-point loss on Wednesday, including 14 first-half turnovers, they finally feel like they’re turning the corner, Edwards opines. The Pistons’ 13 blocks and late-game run were bright points, as was holding Miami to 103 points, setting the expectation for what the defense will look like for the rest of the season. “I’ve said it a couple of times that, when you guys show me that you can play that way, that’s what I expect every night,” Williams said.

Central Notes: Stotts, Griffin, Cunningham, Bates, Allen, Nembhard

Terry Stotts isn’t retiring, even though the 65-year-old coach is exiting Adrian Griffin’s staff with the Bucks, Jim Owczarski of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports.

Stotts wasn’t comfortable with his fit on Milwaukee’s staff. Griffin claimed they got along just fine.

“It caught all of us off guard, of course, but again, you just support him,” Griffin said. “He was a terrific guy. I learned a lot from him in a very short time. He was really good at what he does. He made a decision – a personal decision – and we just have to respect that.”

However, The Athletic’s Eric Nehm and Shams Charania report that Stotts and Griffin had a tenuous relationship. That included a shootaround incident in which Griffin yelled for Stotts to join the coaches’ huddle when Stotts was about to have a conversation with the team’s star players. That highlighted the potential difficulty of Stotts adapting to an assistant role under rookie head coach Griffin. Conversely, it also spoke about the treatment and level of respect that Griffin needed to show Stotts, considering his lengthy coaching career.

We have more from the Central Division:

  • The Pistons paid Monty Williams a lot of money to coach their team, and their star player, Cade Cunningham, has bought in to Williams’ hard-driving style, Keith Langlois of writes. “I love the way he pushes us,” Cunningham said. “He calls things the way he sees them. I think that honesty and that bluntness towards us, that’s huge. Especially for a young team. The systems that he’s put in, the way that he’s made it around our abilities and the personnel we have has been great for us. It’ll continue to get better as he learns us and we learn him.”
  • Rookie second-round pick Emoni Bates has led the Cavaliers in scoring during the preseason. Coach J.B. Bickerstaff told Chris Fedor of that he’s thrilled Bates dropped to the No. 49 overall pick. “I believe if Emoni had gone in the lottery he’d have been the type of player who’d have been in the Rookie of the Year conversation,” Bickerstaff said. “We are extremely fortunate that he’s here with us and we look forward to working with him.”
  • Cavaliers center Jarrett Allen is showing progress from the right ankle injury that has sidelined him during much of training camp. On Thursday afternoon, he went through post-practice shooting drills and then went through an individual workout, according to Fedor. He is set for re-evaluation this weekend and there’s hope he can return for Cleveland’s regular-season opener on Wednesday night.
  • Pacers guard Andrew Nembhard went through a full practice this week and is on track to play in the team’s preseason finale on Friday, Scott Agness of Fieldhouse Files tweets. Nembhard is working his way back from an ankle injury.

NBA GMs Like Celtics’ Offseason Moves, Title Chances

The Celtics and Bucks made the best overall moves this offseason, according to the NBA’s general managers. In his annual survey of the league’s top basketball decision-makers, John Schuhmann of writes that 23% picked Boston as having the best summer, while another 23% picked Milwaukee. The Trail Blazers (17%) and Lakers (13%) were among the other clubs who received multiple votes.

Of course, the Celtics’ and Bucks’ pre-camp trades for Jrue Holiday and Damian Lillard, respectively, were huge factors in the positive perception of their offseasons. Of Schuhmann’s GM respondents, 47% said the Lillard acquisition was the most impactful move of the offseason, while Boston’s addition of Holiday placed second at 13% (the Celtics’ trade for Kristaps Porzingis tied for fourth, at 7%).

Both Boston and Milwaukee are viewed by the league’s general managers as good bets to compete for the title in 2024. The Celtics were selected by 33% of Schuhmann’s respondents as the team that will win the championship the season, while the Bucks got 23% of the vote share. No other Eastern club received a vote, with the Nuggets (33%), Suns (7%), and Clippers (3%) representing the only other teams that were chosen as potential champs.

Here are a few more interesting results from Schuhmann’s GM survey, which is worth checking out in full:

  • As much as the NBA’s general managers like Boston’s roster, it was the Grizzlies‘ acquisition of Marcus Smart from Boston that was voted as the most underrated player addition of the summer (17%), narrowly edging out the Mavericks‘ sign-and-trade for Grant Williams (14%).
  • The NBA’s GMs are high on the Thunder. Oklahoma City was the runaway winner as the team with the league’s most promising young core (73%) and also earned the most votes for which club will be most improved in 2023/24 (30%).
  • Spurs rookie Victor Wembanyama got plenty of love from the league’s GMs. He was the top choice for Rookie of the Year (50%) and was the overwhelming pick for which rookie will be the best player in five years (90%). He also placed second among the players Schuhmann’s respondents would most want to start a franchise with today, with his 23% vote share trailing only Nikola Jokic‘s 33%.
  • NBA GMs expect Ime Udoka of the Rockets to be the head coach that has the biggest impact on his new team (57%), followed by Monty Williams of the Pistons (17%).
  • Jordi Fernandez of the Kings, viewed as a future NBA head coach, comfortably won the vote on the league’s best assistant (31%).
  • The NBA’s GMs consider Timberwolves guard Anthony Edwards (23%), Pistons guard Cade Cunningham (20%), and Magic forward Franz Wagner (13%) the top candidates for a breakout year.
  • Which rookie was the biggest steal in the 2023 draft? Rockets wing Cam Whitmore (43%) was the top choice, with Jazz guard Keyonte George, Trail Blazers guard Scoot Henderson, and Heat forward Jaime Jaquez each receiving 10% of the vote.

Central Notes: Altman, B. Brown, Pacers, Cunningham

The attorney for Koby Altman submitted a plea of not guilty on his behalf on Tuesday after the Cavaliers president of basketball operations was charged with committing a marked lanes violation and operating a vehicle while impaired, per TMZ Sports.

Police video obtained by TMZ and News 5 Cleveland (YouTube link) showed Altman appearing to struggle to complete a series of field sobriety tests after being pulled over in Cleveland on Friday night. The Cavaliers executive told officers that he was “exhausted” after returning from a trip overseas and was driving home after a long dinner.

The Cavaliers, who initially issued a brief statement announcing that they were gathering information on the incident, have put out a follow-up statement, according to Chris Fedor of (Twitter links).

“We hold our team members to a high standard of conduct and expect leaders at every level of our organization to represent the Cavaliers with integrity, professionalism and accountability,” the Cavs said. We will continue to closely monitor the facts and circumstances of this matter and await resolution of the legal process.”

Here’s more from around the Central:

  • In a discussion about the best offseason move made by a Central Division team, Josh Robbins and James L. Edwards III of The Athletic both pick the Pacers‘ signing of Bruce Brown, while their colleague Darnell Mayberry chooses the Pistons‘ hiring of Monty Williams as their new head coach.
  • Within the same story, Edwards, Robbins, and Mayberry identify Pistons guard Cade Cunningham and Pacers forward Obi Toppin and Jarace Walker as some of the top breakout candidates in the Central.
  • The majority of the Pacers‘ players were in attendance for Summer League in Las Vegas, signaling the team’s growing chemistry and a culture that’s on the right trajectory, contends Scott Agness of Fieldhouse Files (subscription required).

Eastern Notes: Dinwiddie, Bol, Pistons, Harris, Heat, Maxey

Spencer Dinwiddie is eligible for an extension later this offseason and there’s support within the Nets organization to add years to his current contract, according to Ian Begley of SNY.TV.

Dinwiddie is entering his walk year with a cap hit of $20,357,143. After being reacquired from Dallas last season, Dinwiddie started 26 regular-season games and averaged 16.5 points and 9.1 assists in 35.3 minutes.

We have more from the Eastern Conference:

  • The Magic have pushed back their decision regarding Bol Bol‘s contract, Jamie Seh of WKMG-TV tweets. Bol has a non-guaranteed $2.2MM salary for next season and the original deadline to guarantee his deal was Friday. If they don’t guarantee his contract, he’ll end up on waivers.
  • By trading for Joe Harris and his expiring contract rather than pursuing a high-level free agent, the Pistons are protecting the cap space for next summer while avoiding a potentially bad contract, according to James Edwards III of The Athletic. Handing a huge offer sheet to restricted free agent Cameron Johnson, as had been anticipated, would have meant overpaying for a role player. They could easily have $60MM in cap space to play with next summer for a better free agent market. Detroit won’t give up a player to the Nets in the trade for Harris, who will provide shooting and wing depth.
  • Agent Mark Bartelstein said Harris has spoken with Pistons GM Troy Weaver, coach Monty Williams and executive Arn Tellem, Mark Medina tweets. According to Bartelstein, the Pistons have wanted Harris “for a couple of years” and “he’ll have a great role there.”
  • The Heat only have veteran’s minimum contracts to offer to free agents, Barry Jackson of Miami Herald tweets. The cap-strapped Heat don’t have a trade lined up to clear enough cap space to use exceptions within league cap rules.
  • While the Sixers aren’t expected to pursue a rookie scale extension with Tyrese Maxey, they haven’t made him available in trade discussions, Kyle Neubeck of Philly Voice tweets.

Weaver: Pistons Willing To Deal Lottery Pick

Pistons general manager Troy Weaver says he’s open to trading the No. 5 overall pick, according to Omari Sankofa II of the Detroit Free Press.

During a pre-draft press conference on Tuesday, Weaver indicated he’s intrigued by the talent level at that spot but wouldn’t rule out a swap.

“We’re still open to improving the team, absolutely,” he said. “Do we like the players that we’ve been vetting out at five? Absolutely. We’re still open to different opportunities as well. Definitely still looking at all of our options to improve the team. These top-five, top-seven picks are valuable because it’s unpredictable after one.”

Weaver said he’s ready to pounce if the right opportunity comes along. He used the Knicks’ desire to shed salary last year to work out a three-team, draft-night swap that landed the Pistons another lottery pick, which they used on Jalen Duren. Weaver could also use the team’s cap space — projected to be around $30MM — to acquire contracts from teams looking to dump salary with future assets attached.

“There could be some vulnerable situations that we could take advantage of and we want to be prepared and working hard to make sure that if those opportunities are afforded, we’re there,” Weaver said, as relayed by Keith Langlois of

If the Pistons keep their pick — or even if they move down a few spots — Weaver will seek a potential star over a safer option.

“I like the long ball,” he said. “I’m not bunting or trying to slap it into short center. I take a big swing. Especially if I only have one chance at it. If I have three chances, OK, I may bunt one. But one chance at it, I’m going for the big fly. That’s me.”

Weaver added that new head coach Monty Williams has been an active participant in draft evaluations.

“Since he’s been hired, he’s been a part of everything — the interviews, the on-court workouts and watching film,” Weaver said. “He’s jumped in with two feet, he’s ready and has a lot of keen insight on players that we really value.”

Suns Notes: Ayton, Landale, Okogie, Craig, Warren, More

If they move Deandre Ayton this offseason, the Suns‘ preference would be to get multiple depth pieces in return rather than simply trading his contract to a cap-room team and acquiring a draft pick or two, John Gambadoro of Arizona Sports 98.7 told Michael Scotto in the latest episode of the HoopsHype podcast.

As the Suns look to fill out their roster following the Bradley Beal blockbuster, they’ll also have interest in re-signing free agents like Jock Landale, Josh Okogie, and Torrey Craig, according to Gambadoro, though he says T.J. Warren is expected to be let go. Scotto confirms that Landale and the Suns have mutual interest in a new deal, with Gambadoro suggesting that the team “really” likes having the big man as its backup center.

Gambadoro and Scotto also discussed several other Suns-related topics during the podcast, including Isiah Thomas‘ unofficial role with the franchise, which Chris Paul alluded to in an interview with The New York Times.

As Gambadoro explains, Thomas isn’t going to be brought into the fold officially in a front office position, but he’s a trusted confidant for new owner Mat Ishbia, who will likely continue soliciting Thomas’ input and bouncing ideas off of him. Longtime Michigan State head coach Tom Izzo is another Ishbia confidant, Gambadoro adds.

Here’s more on the Suns:

  • During the HoopsHype podcast, Gambadoro also discussed the tension that existed between former Suns head coach Monty Williams and players like Jae Crowder and Ayton. “The Jae Crowder situation was all on Monty. He told people he was too difficult to handle and coach. Monty didn’t want Jae. It wasn’t the Suns organization. He didn’t want Jae around,” Gambadoro said. “As far as Deandre Ayton, Monty didn’t want him either. He wanted them to trade him to Indiana for Myles Turner. He didn’t like coaching Ayton. … Monty’s a good coach and a player’s coach, but he’s a player’s coach for the players he likes, but he wasn’t in on Jae and Deandre.”
  • The Suns are counting on having a second-round pick in Thursday’s draft, tweets Gambadoro. It will either be No. 52 – Phoenix’s current selection– or No. 57, if the Suns and Wizards swap late second-rounders as part of the Beal trade.
  • Ian Begley of reported that the Suns – before acquiring Beal – were among the teams to reach out to the Mavericks earlier this offseason to inquire about a possible Kyrie Irving sign-and-trade. However, Gambadoro shot down that report, tweeting that it “never happened.” Either way, with Beal in the fold, an Irving pursuit is definitely off the table.
  • Duane Rankin of The Arizona Republic takes a look at what sort of traits the Suns will be looking for as they attempt to fill out their roster on the cheap. The team could use at least one more wing shooter, a big man who can stretch the floor and rebound, and a defensive stopper, writes Rankin.
  • Eugene German, a former Northern Illinois Star who spent last season playing in China, will work out for the Suns on June 28, a source tells Sean Paul of Mountain West Wire (Twitter link).

Pistons Notes: Williams, Assistants, Gores, Youth

After his wife Lisa was diagnosed with breast cancer during a playoff run with the Suns this spring and he was subsequently fired by the team, Monty Williams was reticent to latch on with a new club right away. Lisa’s health ultimately delayed Williams’ decision to agree to a deal with the Pistons, and that delay led to some additional contract perks, writes James L. Edwards III of The Athletic.

“I had a situation, personally, in my family that needed attention,” Williams said during his introductory press conference this week. “I talked to my wife about whether or not we should talk about that publicly, but that was a huge part of my decision-making. The patience that (team president Troy Weaver) and Mr. Gores (Pistons owner Tom Gores) had with me as we navigated that told me a lot.”

Edwards reveals that, beyond a record-setting salary, the added perks Detroit allocated to Williams included a “health and welfare fund” which would help the Williams family pay incurred healthcare costs that their insurance would not finance and access to a private jet to spend more time with Lisa, who will be receiving care in Phoenix.

As Omari Sankofa II of The Detroit Free Press writes, after being let go by the Suns, Williams was considering taking a year off from coaching to spend more time with his family.

There’s more out of the Motor City:

  • Williams will be bringing much of his former Phoenix bench with him to the Pistons, in addition to some new assistants. In another article for The Free Press, Sankofa unpacks what Detroit’s fresh batch of assistant coaches will bring to the table. Stephen Silas, the head coach of the Rockets from 2020-23, is set to serve as Williams’ lead assistant. Former Suns assistant coaches Brian Randle, Steve Scalzi and Mark Bryant will be joined by ex-Sixers assistant Dan Burke. Jamelle McMillan (son of Nate McMillan) and Spencer Rivers (son of Doc Rivers) will be player development coaches under Williams. Sankofa hints that some other recent assistant coaches under former Pistons head coach Dwane Casey could stick around in the Williams regime.
  • Gores emphasized the import of securing Williams’ services to help guide his rebuilding club back to NBA relevance, writes Mike Curtis of The Detroit News. “It was critical,” the Pistons’ owner said. “It’s a really important time. It was also about these players over here. They literally have trusted us and were holding their own practices and they have their own fortitude. They really were able to stay together and there was a moment when Troy and I, we were together and we said, ‘Those young men are relying on us.’ We had, I wouldn’t call it a yelling match at all, but we just talked about how important it was to deliver to our players.”
  • Sankofa notes in an additional piece that Williams is encouraged by the investment his new young players already appear to have in his abilities. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen a press conference for a coach and all of the players show up,” Williams said. “That’s what I see. A hunger, a desire. They all want it. It really gets to you when you think about it. I could go on and on about what I’ve seen on film. I’ve also talked to them about what we need. We need to do some things a lot better. They’ve all been willing, they’ve all been receptive.”