Wilkens hasn't shown he can win these days

Updated: January 15, 2004, 9:45 AM ET
By Marc Stein | ESPN.com

Age is not the issue. Really. That's not my resistance to Lenny Wilkens, because the sixtysomething set represents the best of NBA coaching.

My problem: The coach with the most wins in league history already has proven that he can win no more.

Sorry. There's no way the New York Knicks can present Wilkens, at 66, as their answer to Memphis bringing back Hubie Brown, or the Florida Marlins turning to Jack McKeon, or the Washington Redskins resurrecting Joe Gibbs.

Brooklyn native? Yes.

Returning sage? Back from oblivion to impart his wisdom on a foundering franchise? No.

Not Lenny.

Wilkens has been away only a few months. He comes home to the Knicks after a Toronto tenure that ended in the spring, with Wilkens on the hot seat for half of his three seasons there. Among the criticisms of his Raptors stint: Wilkens couldn't motivate his players, lagged behind the times strategically and proved sensitive to criticism. In Canada.

What will New York and New Yorkers do to him? Mike Fratello, a Jersey guy with a hard edge, would have been a much better choice. The Czar would have been a story much more reminiscent of Hubie's, coming back a bit mellowed -- but hungry -- from TV land.

Only way this makes sense, to me, is if Wilkens is merely here to finish out the season before Isiah hires himself to coach. Had Fratello been hired now, as suggested, Thomas would have been forced to give him more than half a season with the Knicks. With Wilkens, Zeke needn't promise anything beyond April.


If you don't believe an off-season return to Phoenix is a serious possibility for Steve Nash, that's your choice. But the Suns will indeed be a serious threat to sign Nash away from Dallas if they choose to pursue him.

Nash never sold his house in the Phoenix area after he was dealt to the Mavericks as part of the 1998 draft-day deal that helped Dallas also net Dirk Nowitzki & and sent a draft pick to the Suns that became Shawn Marion. Nash's parents use still the Phoenix residence as a vacation home.

I can assure you that the Suns will ultimately find a way to create more than $10 million in cap room this summer. The bigger uncertainty is gauging how aggressively Phoenix owner Jerry Colangelo will pursue expensive free agents like Nash, whose preference is to re-sign with the Mavs, mainly because of close pals Nowitzki and Michael Finley.


More house news from Dallas: Antawn Jamison has shelved plans to buy a new home in his new city. Seems that he has heard a Rasheed Wallace trade rumor or two.

"It really gets in your head that you really need to perform because you don't want to be in a situation where you leave here," Jamison said. "Leaving this situation and going to another team would be devastating."


Hearty apologies to New Jersey's Kenyon Martin - and Jason Kidd, for that matter -- after we failed to at least mention K-Mart in our opus about the history of the Defensive Player of the Year award.

Only reason Martin was excluded is because we were focusing on perimeter defenders, and we consider Martin an interior presence even though he has proven adept at defending all over the floor.


Even heartier apologies to our man Tracy Morgan. You know how much we revere his commercial with BIG BEN WALLACE, but we took the liberty of calling his character Unorthodoxt Reg, because Reg signs off by the saying, "The way I dunk on you will look unorthdoxt."

Turns out the character has an official name. Morgan says we should call him Reggie Reg, and from now on, we will.

Not to be confused with Indiana's Uncle Reg, of course.


What Kobe Bryant's shoulder injury does to the Lakers in the short term is only half the story. Imagine what it does for Bryant, who just lost his supposed refuge from those legal travails, leaving him a few weeks with nothing to do but rehab and think about all the directions his life can go from here.


One more reason not to like this Knicks move. Wilkens is a last name that feeds right into the next sing-song chant at Madison Square Garden.

"Fi-re Wil-kens."

It flows a lot like "Fi-re Lay-den." Or "Fi-re Cha-ney."

There's a lot less flow to "Fi-re Fra-tel-lo."

Marc Stein is the senior NBA writer for ESPN.com. To e-mail him, click here. Also, click here to send a question for possible use on ESPNEWS.

Marc Stein | email

Senior Writer, ESPN.com
• Senior NBA writer for ESPN.com
• Began covering the NBA in 1993-94
• Also covered soccer, tennis and the Olympics

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