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Wilkens met with Knicks brass Friday night

1/22/2005 - New York Knicks

GREENBURGH, N.Y. -- Lenny Wilkens finally had enough.

The 67-year-old Hall of Famer resigned as coach of the
salary-cap challenged New York Knicks on Saturday, likely ending a
record-setting career that began in 1969 when he was still an
All-Star guard with the Seattle SuperSonics.

"This is a difficult decision for me to make at this time
because I really wanted to help the New York team get back to being
an elite team," Wilkens said in a prepared statement. "But after
a lot of consideration, I feel it's the right time for me, the
right move and best for all involved."

Knicks president Isiah Thomas, who insisted that he would not
have fired Wilkens despite the team's recent slide, turned over the
club to assistant coach Herb Williams for the rest of the season.

The resignation, the first time Wilkens has stepped down or been
fired during a season, followed a lengthy meeting with Thomas after
the Knicks' last-second home loss to Houston on Friday night, their
ninth defeat in 10 games. Thomas also said Wilkens is dealing with
off-court issues, but was not specific.

"It's a very difficult day for myself and for the players,"
Thomas said. "He's a great man and a great coach. We'll miss
him."

Wilkens is both the winningest and losingest coach in NBA
history, going 1,332-1,155 in 32 seasons with Seattle, Portland,
Cleveland, Atlanta, Toronto and New York. He won his lone NBA title
with the Sonics in 1979 and coached the United States to a gold
medal in the 1996 Atlanta Olympics.

Wilkens, who did not take questions after reading his statement,
has two years and $10 million left on his contract, which Thomas
said the team will honor regardless of whether Wilkens accepts an
offer to remain with the club in the front office.

"It's something I'll consider," Wilkens said. "Right now I
feel I need to get away for a little time with my family."

Last season, Wilkens led the Knicks to their first playoff berth
since 2001, going 23-19 in the final 42 regular-season games. But
the Knicks were swept by New Jersey in the first round.

The 46-year-old Williams spent the last seven seasons of his
18-year playing career with the Knicks and joined the coaching
staff in December 2001.

"It's a great opportunity and I'm going to make the most of
it," Williams said. "We're trying to get back to the way things
used to be here -- winning games in the playoffs. That's what it's
all about in this league."

Williams impressed Thomas while coaching the club's summer
league team.

"I'm excited for Herb to have this opportunity," Thomas said.
"He's very knowledgeable about the game and the players respect
him."

Williams coached the Knicks for one game -- a victory over
Orlando -- a year ago between Don Chaney's firing and the hiring of
Wilkens.

"Herb knows what's going on," former teammate Allan Houston
said.

Houston and Kurt Thomas are the only Knicks left from Williams' playing days.

"He's a warrior," Kurt Thomas said. "He's going to coach the
way he played."

Late-game breakdowns have plagued New York (17-22) throughout
the season, with the latest letdown coming on Rockets backup Scott
Padgett's buzzer-beater Friday night after the Knicks had a
shot-clock violation with 10.2 seconds left.

They also lost Monday to Chicago on Ben Gordon's last-second
basket, and were outscored 17-2 in the final 4:55 of a 17-point
loss Wednesday night in Toronto. Six of their 22 losses have been
decided by one or two points.

"The last couple of games you've watched us have some painful
steps," Thomas said. "But our team is fighting and will continue
to fight."

The Knicks have three games left on their four-game homestand --
Milwaukee, Phoenix and Cleveland -- before hitting the road for a
six-game trip that includes stops in Detroit, Sacramento and
Phoenix. They will then return home to play Shaquille O'Neal and
the Eastern Conference-leading Miami Heat.

A nine-time NBA All-Star in his 15-year playing career with St.
Louis, Seattle, Cleveland and Portland, Wilkens and John Wooden are
the only Hall of Fame members elected as both a player and coach.
And in 1997, Wilkens -- a player-coach for four seasons in Seattle
and Portland -- was the only man selected as both one of the 50
greatest players in NBA history and one of the 10 greatest coaches.

Wilkens got his record 939th victory in early 1995 with Atlanta, passing former Boston coach Red Auerbach.