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Weekday mornings on Michigan Radio, Doug Tribou hosts NPR's Morning Edition, the most listened-to news radio program in the country.

John U. Bacon: Pistons' dismissal of Williams after one season was expensive, but necessary

Detroit Pistons head coach Monty Williams looks on during the first half of an NBA basketball game against the Washington Wizards, Friday, March 29, 2024, in Washington.
Nick Wass
During his first season with the Pistons, head coach Monty Williams oversaw a 28-game losing streak and tallied just 14 wins. Detroit fired Williams on Wednesday. The team will have to pay Williams $65 million to fulfill his six-year, $78-million contract.

The Monty Williams era is over in Detroit.

Well, “era,” might be a bit of an overstatement.

The Pistons fired their head coach Wednesday after just one season.

Michigan Public sports commentator John U. Bacon joined Morning Edition host Doug Tribou to talk about that decision, the Stanley Cup Final, baseball legend Willie Mays, and more.

Doug Tribou: Two seasons ago, the Pistons were terrible. They finished their season with a record of 17-65. So, when they hired Monty Williams, no one was expecting him to win an NBA championship in his first season. But people probably weren’t expecting the team to get worse. Yet they did. They won just 14 games this season and set a league record with a 28-game losing streak. How do you like this move by the Pistons?

John U. Bacon: Well, given those numbers, Doug, how can you not like this move from the Pistons? Look, last year when they hired Monty Williams, I quoted my dad and I said, 'Well, when you're on the floor, you can't fall out of bed.' I did not realize there was a basement for the Pistons.

So, 17 wins to 14 wins. Here's a stat for you: That man got paid $78.5 million for one year, essentially, because all his [remaining] years [in a six-year contact] are guaranteed. That's what it cost the Pistons to get rid of him. That is $5.6 million for each of the NBA-worst 14 games his team won. Now that is great work, if you can get fired from it, right there.

What you have here is this: an abysmal situation, but you're already on the hook for it. It's the economic concept of sunk cost.

The Pistons still owe Monty Williams the approximately $65 million left on his six-year contract despite firing him after just one season.

DT: The firing comes after a shakeup in the front office. A few weeks ago, the Pistons fired general manager Troy Weaver and hired Trajan Langdon as the team's head of basketball operations. So Langdon will be looking for a coach while he prepares for next week’s NBA draft.

Meanwhile, the WNBA season is in full swing, but Caitlin Clark will have a break when the Olympics happen. She was not selected to be part of the U.S. Olympic team. What do you make of that decision?

JUB: Well, I suppose three things. One, she's not there yet. She's not one of the 12 best players in the WNBA. So, fair enough. Flipside is, the men certainly, and occasionally the women, have picked the best college player to join the team to learn, to promote the game and so on. She is clearly the best — probably of all time — in women's college basketball. That would have been a great move for her and I think for the PR aspect of women's basketball. In that sense, they blew it.

Third point is that she's handled it very well and did not complain about it. That's how you handle it like a pro. So, well done, Caitlin Clark. But I think basketball has blown a great chance.

DT: Well, we do have a small body of work for her pro game in the WNBA. She's had some ups and downs. What's your view on Clark's start so far in the early stages of her pro career?

JUB: It's about what you'd expect for a rookie. Ups and downs like that, being tested every night. She's also had been roughed up a little bit by [fellow WNBA rookie] Angel Reese and others, which actually is probably good for women's basketball because we're still paying attention.

Worth noting, when Magic Johnson and Larry Bird entered the NBA in 1979, they hated each other. Ended up being the closest of friends, but that made for a great storyline and good TV. We're still paying attention.

The Oilers are just the fourth team to reach Game 6 after a 3-0 series deficit in the Stanley Cup Final.

DT: In the NHL, the Florida Panthers and the Edmonton Oilers are in the Stanley Cup Final. The series started out like a Florida romp with the Panthers up three games to none. Then Edmonton won two straight and Friday night the teams will meet in Edmonton for Game 6. How do you like the Oilers' chances of beating the odds and winning two more?

JUB: Surprisingly good, despite the fact it's very rare to push a 3-0 series this far. But the Oilers are playing at home. Edmonton is a hockey town. Obviously [Canada's] a hockey country. They'll be going nuts. I favor the Oilers in this game. And then Game 7? Tossup.

DT: John, before I let you go, I want to turn to some news from the world of baseball. Willie Mays died this week at the age of 93. What stands out to you about Mays and his impact on baseball?

JUB: Well, two things. One, Jackie Robinson obviously broke the color barrier, but as one of the greats said about Willie Mays, 'Jackie Robinson got us in the league. Willie Mays showed everybody what we can do.'

And [Baseball Hall of Famer] Reggie Jackson said this week, Babe Ruth, you wanted to see you do one thing: hit home runs. Willie Mays, you wanted to see do everything.

He could hit for power, hit for average. He was a great baserunner, great glove, great arm. He had all five tools. He might have been the greatest player who ever lived.

Editor's note: Quotes in this article have been edited for length and clarity.

Doug Tribou joined the Michigan Public staff as the host of Morning Edition in 2016. Doug first moved to Michigan in 2015 when he was awarded a Knight-Wallace journalism fellowship at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor.
John U. Bacon has worked nearly three decades as a writer, a public speaker, and a college instructor, winning awards for all three.
Caoilinn Goss is the producer for Morning Edition. She started at Michigan Public during the summer of 2023.
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