The case for and against Monty Williams as Sixers head coach


Three seasons after hiring Doc Rivers, the Sixers are searching again for a head coach. 

First up in our series on Sixers coaching candidates was Nick Nurse.

We'll look next at the case for and against hiring Monty Williams to replace Rivers.

The case for Williams

For many reasons, the Suns firing Williams was widely viewed as a harsh decision. New owner Mat Ishbia made it despite Williams having a mere eight regular-season games with new Phoenix superstar Kevin Durant.

Before reviewing Williams’ on-paper credentials, it matters that the vast majority of people who know him seem to be big fans of his character and personality. He comes across as an authentic, humble leader who generally applies pressure when warranted. And from the standpoint of commanding respect, it doesn’t hurt that Williams played 456 games as an NBA forward. The final 21 were for the 2002-03 Sixers. He also played for Rivers on the Magic and the two maintain a close relationship.

Williams’ Suns took an incredible route to a 2021 NBA Finals lead. After going 8-0 in the NBA’s Disney World bubble, Williams told his players they were not the “Suns of old.” He was right. Chris Paul and Williams reunited fruitfully the next season and Phoenix won the Western Conference (as well as Games 1 and 2 of the Finals) before falling to the Bucks. 


In the 2021-22 campaign, the Suns went 64-18 and finished with a top-five mark in both offensive and defensive rating. Stars Paul and Devin Booker led the way, but role players like backup point guard Cameron Payne, veteran 3-and-D forward Jae Crowder, and stretch four Cameron Johnson also shined. Iron man Mikal Bridges earned a First Team All-Defense selection. Williams was named Coach of the Year. 

While Williams’ single year as a Sixers assistant shouldn’t be a giant factor in evaluating his candidacy, that 2018-19 season is notable. Drawn back to Philadelphia in large part because of his history with Brett Brown, Williams focused on the Sixers’ offense but had a strategic voice in all areas of the game.

Alongside current Suns associate head coach Kevin Young, Williams helped add creative wrinkles to the Sixers’ sets — including a back screen for Joel Embiid as an end-of-play option; often employing JJ Redick as an effective screener; figuring out one or two new ways to generate Embiid post-ups. 

Overall, our impression is that Williams has developed a solid feel for how to trust his stars’ strengths while also identifying methods of putting them in comfortable, advantageous positions. Paul clearly played a giant role in Phoenix, but Williams deserves credit for establishing a distinct system that tended to work quite well. 

The case against Williams

The Suns’ Round 2, Game 7 loss last season was actually worse than the Sixers’ defeat to the Celtics this year at the same stage.

As a No. 1 seed at home, Phoenix trailed by 42 points through three quarters. The Mavs forced Game 7 with a 27-point win in Dallas, too. 

“We were about as unorganized on offense as we’ve ever been,” Williams told reporters following that abysmal Game 6.

As the Sixers know, ending a season in that fashion reflects poorly on everyone. 

Asked why big man Deandre Ayton only played 17 minutes in Game 7, Williams simply said, “It’s internal.” When he returned to training camp, Ayton said he had not spoken to Williams at all during the offseason. Ayton missed the final game of Williams’ Suns tenure, sitting out Phoenix’s Round 2, Game 6 blowout loss to the Nuggets with a rib contusion. At a minimum, it’s safe to say Ayton and Williams didn’t have the smoothest relationship. 


Williams’ 2021 Finals run is his one appearance past the second round in nine seasons as a head coach. Consistent, deep playoff success is hard to pull off, but there are many valid questions related to Williams’ postseason track record. Both on-court decisions — game-to-game rotation moves, inability to find solutions to mid-series problems, etc. — and his team’s efforts in massive games are open to scrutiny.

“I take that personally, not having our team ready to play in the biggest game of the year,” Williams told reporters after Phoenix’s elimination this year. “That’s something that I pride myself on and it just didn’t happen. … That’s something I have to take a deep look at, everything I’m doing.”

Though Williams absolutely looks worthy of another head coaching job, his perspective following that “deep look” will be interesting to hear.