CAMDEN, N.J. — Training camp doesn’t officially start for the Sixers until media day on Friday, but new lead assistant coach Monty Williams is already drilling his players on everything from the proper angle for elbow entry passes to new plays that make the most of Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid’s abilities.
The fact that there were about a thousand people watching him Monday night at head coach Brett Brown’s annual clinic for local coaches seemed irrelevant to him.
After two years away from coaching, working in the San Antonio Spurs' front office, Williams is happy to be back on the floor, drawing up creative options within the Sixers’ sets. T.J. McConnell, Norvel Pelle, Demetrius Jackson and Anthony Brown were supposed to be demonstrating different plays and concepts for the crowd, but Williams made sure they learned a couple new plays as well.
“I know it’s cool in the NBA to get away from your job and not talk about basketball, but I’m not like that,” Williams said. “When I leave the floor, I talk about basketball, I talk about coming up with plays. So Brett’s like that, so when we leave the gym, we still talk about basketball, we text at night about basketball. It’s a good environment for me because it fits me.”
Williams, who was the head coach in New Orleans from 2010 to 2015, making the postseason twice during that span, has a history with Brown. After a nine-year NBA career, which included Philadelphia as a final stop for the 2002-03 season, Williams joined the Spurs as a coaching staff intern during the 2004-05 campaign. That’s where he first met Brown, then an assistant under Gregg Popovich.
“He was the guy that gave me a shot,” Williams said. “Pop invited me to be around, but Brett said, ‘I got him. He can be in my stable.’ We spent every day together talking about coaching, life, on the elliptical. That stuff went a long way with me because he didn’t have to do it, and so when I left and went to Portland, we stayed in contact.
“I got a head [coaching] job, he got a head [coaching] job, we starting competing against each other, and we never lost that relationship. Then when this opportunity came up, it just seemed like not only the right thing to do, but it’s been a good transition for me. We have a unique relationship that started about 15 years ago.”
Williams’ main focus with the Sixers will be on the offensive end, with an emphasis on set plays and special situations, while Kevin Young will shift to working on the Sixers’ motion offense. That said, Williiams noted Brown wants his coaches to have a say in everything the team does.
“He’s always telling me to coach, helping on defense, transition, talking to Kevin about our motion offense. Brett doesn’t put a limit on what you do. That’s why a number of the guys that have been here have grown so much.”
Billy Lange will be in charge of the defense, taking over Lloyd Pierce’s old role. Pierce left the Sixers to become the Atlanta Hawks’ head coach, which is why there was an opening for Williams.
Williams said he thinks the biggest area he can help Brown is with the details. For instance, Williams showed the crowd a few variations he hopes to add to the Sixers’ “Ear tug world,” or their series of plays that begin with two big men in the high post and two wings in the corners. “Ear tug curl with up option” ends with one of the wings starting to curl up, but instead setting a back screen on the big man at the elbow to, if the first option is available, free Embiid for a lob.
While Williams is excited to be back crafting plays for players like Embiid, he said the drive he’s seen from the Sixers' players is also something that motivates him.
“I’m seeing a competitive edge from young, talented, generational players, and that’s exciting,” Williams said. “I feel like a lot of it is who they are, but I also feel like they’re chasing something. I watch Ben in here on the floor at eight o’clock in the morning, I’m looking at a young man that’s chasing something. When I see Joel dominating pickup games, every single game trying to win the game, he’s chasing something.
"I’m seeing Markelle (Fultz) with the ability to work on his game, JJ (Redick) in his 13th year in great shape and knocking down shot after shot after shot. I’m reminded that these guys are competitive. And that makes you want to be as sharp as you can for them.”