Monty Williams’ windfall raises stakes for Phoenix Suns, Mat Ishbia

Jun 1, 2023, 6:00 PM

Mat Ishbia...

Incoming Phoenix Suns owner Mat Ishbia claps as the 1993 Suns team is introduced during halftime of ah NBA basketball game between the Suns and the Indiana Pacers in Phoenix, Saturday, Jan. 21, 2023. (AP Photo/Darryl Webb)

(AP Photo/Darryl Webb)

NBA ownership isn’t always fun and games. In Phoenix, the plot has thickened quicker than Monty Williams’ wallet.

Nearly three weeks after firing their former head coach, the Suns still haven’t announced a successor. The delay seems curious, especially for a hyper-aggressive owner like Mat Ishbia, who hasn’t a minute to waste, a man so hard-charging he sometimes forgets to complete his sentences.

There is no reported change or reduction in the pool of finalists: Doc Rivers, Frank Vogel, and Kevin Young. But it feels like the stakes have changed significantly.

Start with Williams, who never vibed with Ishbia and never dug Isiah Thomas’ presence around the team. His termination was neither shocking nor undeserved, a head coach who deserves a good chunk of blame for the previous two postseasons.

But the turn of events will give you whiplash. Has anyone been so unceremoniously fired by one franchise, only to be made the richest head coach in the history of the sport before the start of the NBA Finals?

Williams fell into the windfall of a lifetime. He leveraged retirement on the farm, where he would’ve earned $7 million a year to do nothing. The Pistons had to blow that number out of the water, and they did. Good for him.

Williams is also a better fit in Detroit than he is with the current Suns roster. But the size of Williams’ new contract ($13.05 million per year) is such an impact statement that it’s prompting some Suns fans to question his removal in the first place.

Just like they are questioning the trade for Kevin Durant. And if you like irony, Williams ends up as the professional basketball coach in Ishbia’s beloved home state of Michigan, coaching a franchise Thomas once carried to the mountaintop.

Ishbia likely feels grateful as well. The offer Williams couldn’t refuse from the Pistons saved Ishbia $21 million in salary. And chances are, he’s using that money to pursue his own impact statement. Maybe make one last run at dislodging Ty Lue from Los Angeles. Or maybe give Tom Izzo more money than the Pistons gave Williams, just for effect.

But it’s fair to wonder if something has changed that night Ishbia played keep-away with the basketball and flopping from contact from Nikola Jokic. Their playoff confrontation was well received in Arizona, nothing more than a delay of game penalty. But some outsiders seemed appalled. And his hyper-aggressive temperament seemed to become a thing during the coaching search, where Adrian Wojnarowski reported some hesitancy surrounding the Phoenix vacancy; where Nick Nurse ended up in Philadelphia, reportedly using the Suns for leverage purposes only.

Bottom line: Most everyone believes Ishbia has the makings of a great NBA owner. But the sample size is small, his involvement is heavy, and no one knows what he might do next.

Let’s hope it’s a home run hire from deep left field, the kind that requires a tape measure.

Reach Bickley at dbickley@arizonasports.com. Listen to Bickley & Marotta mornings from 6-10 a.m. on Arizona Sports 98.7.

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Monty Williams’ windfall raises stakes for Phoenix Suns, Mat Ishbia