Wilkens Quits the Hawks After Most Dismal Season

From Associated Press

Lenny Wilkens has won more games than any coach in NBA history. He is also out of a job, resigning Monday from the Atlanta Hawks after the worst season of his 27-year career.

The resignation was announced at Philips Arena by team President Stan Kasten and General Manager Pete Babcock. Wilkens did not attend the news conference but was reached by the Associated Press at his suburban Seattle home. “The Hawks were very good to me,” he said. “It’s just time to move on.”

Wilkens, 62, who coached the Hawks for seven years, had two years and $10.4 million left on a lucrative contract extension signed in 1997. The team said it would continue to pay Wilkens until he finds a new job.

“I still enjoy coaching,” Wilkens said. “I want to take some time off and just see what’s out there. Hopefully, I will come to some conclusions, but I’m not rushing to do anything.”


The decision was not unexpected after the Hawks struggled to a 28-54 record, their worst since moving to Atlanta in 1968. The team missed the playoffs for the first time since 1992, losing 25 of its final 31 games.

“We all concluded mutually that this was a good time to give everybody a chance to start from scratch, start a new chapter in their lives,” Kasten said. “While we all agree this is the right decision, it doesn’t diminish my sadness that this day had to come.”

Before coming to Atlanta, Wilkens had stints in Cleveland, Seattle and Portland. His career record is 1,179-981.

The Hawks had at least 50 victories in three of Wilkens’ first five years, then finished second in the Central Division after battling with Indiana until the final week of the strike-shortened 1999 season.


But in a bid to shake up a stale franchise, Babcock engineered a deal that sent leading scorer Steve Smith to the Portland Trail Blazers for Isaiah Rider and Jim Jackson. He also traded longtime point guard Mookie Blaylock and wound up with seven new players on the roster.

Rider didn’t show for the first day of training camp and was finally waived in March after season-long disciplinary problems.

Kasten said he has no plans to shake up the front office, leaving Babcock as the general manager. Instead, the one to go was Wilkens, who seemed uncomfortable with the team’s direction before the season.

Nevertheless, he refused to characterize himself as the fall guy.

“Everybody knew it was a risk. We all understood that,” Wilkens said. “It just didn’t work out. It’s unfortunate, but that’s the way it goes sometimes.”

Babcock said he had already talked with several possible successors to Wilkens. Among those considered candidates are college coaches Tubby Smith of Kentucky, Bob Huggins of Cincinnati and Mike Jarvis of St. John’s; SuperSonic assistant Nate McMillan; and former NBA great Isiah Thomas.


Toronto Raptor Coach Butch Carter responded to criticism over his lawsuit against Marcus Camby of the New York Knicks by comparing it to last month’s furor over coaches wearing microphones.


Before Sunday’s game against the Knicks, a league official handed Carter a memo written by NBA Deputy Commissioner Russ Granik that read: “The idea of a coach suing a player over his public comments seems unprecedented and inappropriate.”

“The league is the league,” Carter said after Monday’s practice. “I’m not good at managing the league. I’m just good at trying to run a basketball team.

“They said it was inappropriate when I didn’t wear a mike.”

The NBA fined the Raptors $100,000 after Carter refused to obey a league mandate that ordered coaches to wear microphones, but the fine was rescinded after an outcry from coaches.

“I respect the fact they got to run a league, but history has shown they don’t understand everything it takes to be in a locker room and coach a team,” Carter said.


Miami Heat Coach Pat Riley required stitches above his left eye after hurting himself while swimming at home late Saturday.

“I thought I was Mark Spitz doing flip turns,” he said.


Riley had five small bandage strips above his left eyebrow at practice Monday, and his left cheek was puffy. He declined to say how many stitches he needed.


NBC’s weekend coverage of the NBA’s opening playoff games resulted in mixed ratings for the network--down for Saturday, up for Sunday and identical overall to last year’s numbers.

Saturday’s overnight rating was 4.4, down from 4.6 on the first Saturday of the playoffs a year ago. On Sunday, the network had a 6.3 rating, up from 5.9 for the first playoff Sunday last year. For the weekend, the combined overnight rating for six games was 5.3, identical to last year’s opening playoff weekend.

Each ratings point represents 1 million homes. The overnight ratings cover about 63% of the nation’s population.


Big Numbers

The regular-season records of NBA teams coached by Lenny Wilkens:


Year Team W L Pct. 1969-70 Seattle 36 46 .439 1970-71 Seattle 38 44 .463 1971-72 Seattle 47 35 .573 1974-75 Portland 38 44 .463 1975-76 Portland 37 45 .451 1977-78 Seattle 42 18 .700 1978-79 Seattle-x 52 30 .634 1979-80 Seattle 56 26 .683 1980-81 Seattle 34 48 .415 1981-82 Seattle 52 30 .634 1982-83 Seattle 48 34 .585 1983-84 Seattle 42 40 .512 1984-85 Seattle 31 51 .378 1986-87 Cleveland 31 51 .378 1987-88 Cleveland 42 40 .512 1988-89 Cleveland 57 25 .695 1989-90 Cleveland 42 40 .512 1990-91 Cleveland 33 49 .402 1991-92 Cleveland 57 25 .695 1992-93 Cleveland 54 28 .659 1993-94 Atlanta 57 25 .695 1994-95 Atlanta 42 40 .512 1995-96 Atlanta 46 36 .561 1996-97 Atlanta 56 26 .683 1997-98 Atlanta 50 32 .610 1999 Atlanta 31 19 .620 1999-00 Atlanta 28 54 .341 Totals 1179 981 .546


x-won NBA championship