By Randy Renner
As soon as Monty Williams was fired in New Orleans people started speculating he would be near, if not right at the top, of the list of coaches the Thunder would target as a possible lead assistant for Billy Donovan.
Sources in New Orleans and around the NBA say the Thunder were aggressive in their pursuit of Williams for a variety of reasons and that has now paid off. Williams has accepted the Thunder's offer to become Donovan's lead assistant.
Williams spent almost a decade playing in the NBA then the last 10 years coaching in the league. He was an assistant with the Clippers for five seasons before becoming head coach in New Orleans. He was fired May 12th despite getting the Pelicans into the playoffs this season.
As usual Yahoo! Sports Adrian Wojnarowski was first reporting all the details but Pelicans beat writer John Reid of the New Orleans Times-Picayune tells us Williams was intrigued by the Thunder opportunity because of his relationship and respect for Thunder superstar Kevin Durant.
Williams serves as an assistant coach for Team USA basketball so he's gotten to know both Durant and Thunder superstar point guard Russell Westbrook through those opportunities.
Williams and KD grew up in the same area of the Washington DC metro, Prince George's County. Last October, during an extended interview with Sam Amick of USA Today, Durant talked about his admiration for Williams.
"Just being around him for a week with USA Basketball and knowing how great he is with the guys. He's a phenomenal leader so he inspires me a lot. He's from the same area I grew up in and the route he took to making it in the NBA and being a head coach and just being a great leader."
Then in December when the Pelicans visited Oklahoma City for a game with the Thunder, Williams was asked about Durant.
"We'd always been around each other, but we've never talked," Williams said then. "When we talked this summer, we realized how much we had in common. His mom I think went to my high school. I think Kevin is a wonderful person and is always doing the right thing. We just had some really good conversations about life and basketball."
Sounds like a perfect fit. Williams also has a reputation for being outstanding at player development and he will have a prominent role in that aspect of the Thunder operation too.
An official announcement from the Thunder could come today but the team may decide to wait until the entire staff is in place. Donovan and Thunder GM Sam Presti are still looking for a defensive minded assistant for another spot. Donovan is also expected to announce soon that he's hired Anthony Grant, who was one of his assistants at Florida and also head coach at Alabama and Virginia Commonwealth. Donovan has retained Thunder assistants Mark Bryant and Darko Rajakovic from Scott Brooks' staff and wanted to keep Robert Pack but Pack has accepted an assistant coaching spot on Alvin Gentry's new staff with the Pelicans. Pack grew up in New Orleans.