Chaney, Malone, Kruger fired; Wilkens hired
NEW YORK -- Isiah Thomas pulled off a shocker on a bizarre day even by New York Knicks standards, firing Don Chaney and his two top assistants Wednesday and hiring Lenny Wilkens as head coach.
The 66-year-old Wilkens is the NBA leader in career coaching victories and losses.
"I think he's a perfect fit," Thomas said.
Chaney and assistants Brendan Malone and Lon Kruger received the news after arriving at Madison Square Garden late in the afternoon.
"I'm not here today to point out negative things about Don or our former coaching staff," said Thomas, who also considered himself, Chuck Daly and Mike Fratello for the job. "At the end of the day I thought Lenny would be the better man for the job."
Thomas has turned over nearly half the roster and a majority of the coaching staff, acquiring an All-Star in Stephon Marbury and a Hall of Famer in Wilkens.
Assistant Herb Williams coached the Knicks to a 120-110 victory over the Orlando Magic on Wednesday night. The Knicks entered the game with a record of 15-24, in fifth place in the weak Atlantic Division.
Thomas also said he would continue to explore making changes, including a possible trade for Portland's Rasheed Wallace.
"If they put him back out there, we'd be interested," Thomas told The Associated Press.
Chaney was 72-112 in two-plus seasons in New York and 337-494 in 12 seasons overall as an NBA head coach.
Wilkens' career coaching record is 1,292-1,114. He was fired by Toronto at the end of last season.
"With the change this afternoon, I'm just still shocked and surprised that it went down," Knicks forward Kurt Thomas said. "Don handled this like he handles everything -- superb."
Chaney put the team through its morning shootaround after reading in the New York Daily News that he would be replaced by Fratello, who later released a statement saying he had no agreement "in place." Thomas said no offer was ever made to Fratello.
Wilkens was expected to take over the team Thursday.
"I know he's a winner. I know he's won. Everyone I know who's had contact with him said he's the ultimate players' coach," Marbury said.
Thomas' unexpected choice of Wilkens was signature moment of a strange day for one of the league's charter franchises.
It began with Chaney, knowing the end was near, being upset that Thomas had not been in touch with him since Monday.
"Without hearing anything one way or another is a sign of disrespect to a degree," Chaney said.
Before speaking with the media, the grim-faced trio of Chaney, Kruger and Malone huddled near a bank of exercise cycles. Meanwhile, a group of several developmental coaches, including Thomas-imports Mark Aguirre and George Glymph, laughed and shot baskets after the players had left -- a stark visual contrast of the two Knicks factions, the beaten-down outgoing one vs. another that had held the court.
The night turned even worse for Malone. According to the Daily News, he was involved in a traffic accident as he was returning home. Malone was traveling with his wife Maureen, daughter, and grandson. Maureen Malone suffered a head injury not believed to be serious.
"It wasn't a good night," Malone told the Daily News.
Chaney was not available for comment after being dismissed.
Fans have chanted "Fire Chaney" at two of the Knicks' last three games, and New York has lost five of six to drop to 10th place in the Eastern Conference -- two spots below the cutoff point for making the postseason.
Thomas said he believed Wilkens would be a perfect fit to work with Marbury, indicating that Fratello's history of coaching a slow-paced style might have worked against him.
Instead, Thomas chose a coach who was 113-133 during his three seasons in Toronto.
"Brooklyn guy, New York guy gets to come back home. He's probably going to need a lot of tickets now, too," Marbury said.
Wilkens also coached for seven seasons in Atlanta, seven in Cleveland, two in Portland and 11 in Seattle.
"I'm happy for Lenny -- he's a great guy and a great coach," Raptors forward Morris Peterson said. "He got blamed for a lot of what happened here, but he was playing with the cards he was dealt. We had a lot of injuries, and there's nothing he could do about that."
Thomas appeared on the "Late Show" with David Letterman on Tuesday night and was asked about his plans for Chaney.
"You definitely don't like to see anyone humiliated in such a public forum," Thomas said of the chants.
"So he's done, that's what you're saying?" Letterman replied.
Chaney said his wife had watched the show, but that they had not discussed it. Weary over the constant speculation about his future and the toll it was taking on his wife, Chaney seemed eager for a resolution.
Allan Houston, who has been with the Knicks through the tenures and departures of team executives Dave Checketts, Ernie Grunfeld, and Layden, struggled to put Wednesday's developments into perspective.
"I try to put so many of these crazy things out of my head, sometimes you almost forget," Houston said. "But if I had a hypnotist to bring all that stuff back, I don't know where it would rank. It was crazy when we came to practice one day and all of a sudden Jeff (Van Gundy) was gone. That was crazy. But that's just the nature of how things have been."
Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.
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