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Knicks' Wilkens Resigns, H. Williams Takes Over

Sunday, January 23, 2005; Page E09

Lenny Wilkens finally had enough.

The 67-year-old Hall of Famer resigned as coach of the salary cap challenged Knicks yesterday, likely ending a record-setting coaching career that began in 1969 when he was still an all-star guard with the 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."

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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.

-- From News Services

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