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About The daily Nebraskan. ([Lincoln, Neb.) 1901-current | View Entire Issue (April 25, 2000)
Wilkens resigns as Hawks
coach after losing season
ATLANTA (AP) — Lenny
Wilkens has won more games than
any coach in NBA history. He’s 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 subur
ban Seattle home.
“The Hawks were very good to
me,” he said. “It’s just time to move
The 62-year-old Wilkens, 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 con
clusions, but I’m not rushing to do
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 conclude^ mutually that
this was a good time to give every
body 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 dimin
ish my sadness that this day had to
Before coming to Atlanta,
Wilkens had stints in Cleveland,
Seattle and Portland. His career
record is 1,179-981, and he won his
lone NBA championship with the
Sonics in 1979.
Wilkens, a nme-time NBA All
Star, and John Wooden are the only
people elected to the Hall of Fame as
both a player and coach. In 1997, he
was honored as one of the 50 greatest
players in NBA history and one of
the 10 greatest coaches, the only per
son on both lists.
He got his 939th victory in early
1995, passing former Boston Celtics
coach Red Auerbach. In 1996,
Wilkens coached the U.S. Olympic
team to a gold medal in Atlanta after
serving as an assistant in 1992.
The Hawks had at least 50 victo
ries in three of Wilkens’ first five
years, then finished second in the
Central after battling with Indiana
until the final week of the strike
shortened 1999 season.
But in a bid to shake up a stale
franchise and get past the second
round of the playoffs for the first
time since moving from St. Louis,
Babcock engineered a deal that sent
leading scorer Steve Smith to the
Portland Trail Blazers for Isaiah
Rider and Jim Jackson. The Hawks
also traded longtime point guard
Mookie Blaylock and wound up with
seven new players on the roster.
Rider’s discipline problems were
well documented, but the Hawks
wanted to dump Smith’s long-term
contract and switch to an up-tempo
offense with younger, faster players.
Rider didn’t show for the first
day of training camp, missed a prac
tice and skipped a team flight. '
Finally, after two Suspensions and the
threat of another for repeatedly
showing up late, he was waived with
18 games left in a lost season.
Babcock takes responsibility for
the Rider trade but continues to
defend it as the right move. In addi
tion to getting at teas! a top eight
draft pick this year, the Hawks are *
likely to have more than $10 million
in cap room for 2001.
“We had to go in this direction to
get back to where we need to be,”
” The Hawks were very good to me.
It’s just time to move on”
former Hawks coach
Babcock said. We wanted to take
one step backward so we could take
five steps forward. Now, maybe we
took a couple of more steps back
ward than we needed to take. But it’s
no one person’s fault.”
Kasten said he has no plans to
shake up the front office, leaving
Babcock as the GM despite some
questionable moves over the past
decade. Instead, the one to go was
Wilkens, who seemed uncomfort
able with the direction of the team
prior to the season.
Nevertheless, he refused to char
acterize 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
The players were supportive of
“Lenny didn’t make all the deci
sions here, all the changes,” All-Star
center Dikembe Mutombo said late
in the. season. “All he could do was
coach who was brought here.”
But the organization wasn’t
happy that Wilkens waited until
March 6 to bench journeyman point
guard Bimbo Coles and put rookie
Jason Terry into the lineup.
Likewise, first-round picks Dion
Glover and Cal Bowdler didn’t get
any meaningful playing time until
late in the season.
Babcock said he received infor
mal feelers from four or five poten
tial coaches before Wilkens resigned,
and he already had talked with a cou
ple of candidates Monday before
attending the late-aftemoon news
Among those mentioned as
potential candidates are college
coaches Tubby Smith of Kentucky,
Dob Huggins of Cincinnati and Mike
Jarvis of JSt. John’s and Sonics assis
tant Nate McMillan.
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