GREENBURGH, N.Y. -- 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.
"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."
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, 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 no matter
what Wilkens decides.
"It's something I'll consider," Wilkens said. "Right now I feel I need to get away for a little time with my family."
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.
"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. ... I think he just came
to a point where enough was enough."
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.
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."
Knicks guard Allan Houston and forward Kurt Thomas have both played with and under Williams.
"Herb knows what's going on," Houston said. "We're going to well-prepared."
Added Kurt Thomas: "He's a warrior. He's going to coach the way he played."
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 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 left the Knicks in third place in the weak Atlantic Division with
a record of 17-22. On Wednesday night in Toronto, the Knicks were outscored 17-2 in the final 4:55 of a 17-point loss, and they 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.
"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."
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, 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.