Lenny Wilkens Resigns As Knicks' Coach

Saturday, January 22nd 2005, 11:44 am

By: News On 6

GREENBURGH, N.Y. (AP) _ Lenny Wilkens resigned as coach of the New York Knicks on Saturday, likely ending his Hall of Fame career after barely a year with his hometown team. General manager Isiah Thomas said assistant coach Herb Williams will direct the team for the rest of the season.

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

Thomas offered the 67-year-old Wilkens a front-office position, but Wilkens said he is not sure whether he will remain with the team. Wilkens has two years and $10 million left on his contract, which Thomas said the team will honor no matter what Wilkens decides about remaining with the club.

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 the Houston Rockets on Friday night, their ninth defeat in 10 games.

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 SuperSonics in 1979 and coached the United States to a gold medal in the 1996 Atlanta Olympics.

Last season, Wilkens led the Knicks to their first playoff berth since 2001, going 23-19 after taking over the team following Chaney's firing. The Knicks were then swept by New Jersey in the first round.

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 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, who starred at Boys High School in Brooklyn and was an All-America guard at Providence, got his record 939th victory in early 1995 with Atlanta, passing former Boston coach Red Auerbach.

The free-falling Knicks have three games left on their four-game homestand _ Milwaukee, Phoenix and Cleveland _ before hitting the road for a six-game road 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.

New York's 92-91 loss to Houston on Scott Padgett's off-balance jumper at the buzzer gave the Knicks nine losses in their last 10 games. The slide has dropped the Knicks into third place in the weak Atlantic Division with a record of 17-22.

It has been a difficult week for the Knicks, who were outscored 17-2 in the final 4:55 of a 17-point loss at Toronto on Wednesday night and lost on a last-second basket by Chicago's Ben Gordon two nights earlier.

Late-game breakdowns have plagued the Knicks throughout the season, with the latest last-second letdown coming on Padgett's buzzer-beater, which came after New York's Jamal Crawford was unable to cleanly handle a pass from Stephon Marbury, leading to a shot-clock violation with 10.2 seconds left.

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