After being rebuffed by Celtics defensive guru Tom Thibodeau, who landed in Chicago instead, the Hornets have come to terms with their next head coach: former Blazers assistant Monty Williams.
According to ESPN, the Hornets quickly zeroed in on Williams after Thibodeau withdrew from consideration on Friday, which had been their contingency plan all along should they not be able to secure the highly sought after Thibodeau. The 38-year old Williams will become the youngest head coach in the NBA, taking the spot from the Heat's Erik Spoelstra.
Throughout his, albeit brief, tenure as an NBA assistant, Williams has gained a reputation as an able teacher able to relate well to players. Indeed, during the Hornets' courtship of Thibodeau, it was rumored that Chris Paul favored Williams as the team's next head coach. Williams broke in as an NBA assistant in 2005 under Gregg Popovich with the Spurs, before moving on to Portland the following season to join Nate McMillan's staff. With McMillan hobbled this past season due to an Achilles injury, Williams reportedly took on a larger role on the bench during games, as the Blazers managed an impressive regular season despite suffering a host of injuries to key players.
SB Nation's At The Hive has a full breakdown of Williams, courtesy of some inside info via our bloggers from Blazers Edge, who saw Williams up close for the past few seasons:
The idea of Williams being very easy to relate to jibes well with a lengthy, detailed email Benjamin Golliver from Blazers Edge sent me about Williams' candidacy as a H.C. A snippet from Ben: "Another role Monty plays is as a go-between for the players and for Nate. This is a pretty low-maintenance group of guys right now but the occasional complaint over playing time and the like comes up. I think Monty is able to act as a buffer between the players and Nate in those situations, sort of a "good cop, bad cop" role where guys might confide something to Monty that they might not to Nate, and then Monty can approach Nate with the issue. Nate is seen as a pretty demanding, no-nonsense guy and he has intimidated players in the past into internalizing their problems and venting elsewhere (Sergio Rodriguez, Rudy Fernandez, to a lesser extent,Jerryd Bayless). Monty surely has helped mitigate other similar situations."
It's clear that Williams is the type of coach that will command respect in the locker room, whilst simultaneously remaining approachable. How many current NBA coaches can claim that? The division between the "player's coach" and the "hard-ass coach" has long been a distinct one.Byron Scott seemed to find that line with Chris Paul though, and that duality could prove to be a key element the Hornets seek in CP's next coach. Williams undoubtedly has it.
Just as with Thibodeau, tales of Williams sacrificing his time and energy for the sake of his players are aplenty. He reportedly worked early mornings and late nights with Greg Oden to help him with his shot. As Ben pointed out in his email to me, he's worked with a player that came straight out of Mississippi and into the "Jail Blazer" locker room (Outlaw) and a player from France who spoke limited English (Batum). Perhaps what impresses me most is the markedly different approach he took with each. Ben: "Monty has had that "older brother" ability to guide those guys along as they developed in their first few years. With Travis, a guy who is maybe a little more sensitive and took a lot of criticism, Monty always was careful to defend him. With Nicolas, a player with huge upside, he's been more confrontational and challenging Nic to improve on poor performances."
For more on Williams and all things Hornets, check out At The Hive.