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Raptors fire Wilkens after 24-58 season

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TORONTO (AP)

Lenny Wilkens thinks he can build another winner, even after experiencing the worst season of his 30-year NBA career. The Toronto fired the Hall of Fame coach Thursday following a 24-58 season in which Wilkens set the league record for career losses.
Mike Monroe's Dot-comment
If you were surprised to find out the Raptors fired head coach Lenny Wilkens Thursday you must have missed GM Glen Grunwald¿s promise to Raptors fans after their final home game that the organization was ¿not going to stand for this any longer.¿ Grunwald is a stand-up guy -- not many GMs would have endured the boos that rained down on him during what has turned into an annual address to the fans after the season-ender -- and I¿m guessing he gave Wilkens a heads-up about his job before dropping the axe on Thursday. Wilkens, the winningest coach in NBA history, turned out to be the wrong guy in the wrong place at the wrong time in Toronto. He is not a fiery, in-your-face type, and that is probably what was needed to deal with Vince Carter. Carter is one of the league¿s most gifted players, but for all the lip service he pays to wanting to re-establish himself as one of the league¿s best and also be a team leader, it is abundantly clear he needs external motivation. Wilkens didn¿t give him enough. Don¿t feel too bad for Wilkens, though. He is just a few months shy of his 66th birthday, already in the Hall of Fame as both player and coach and got a handsome settlement to "mutually agree¿ to the change announced Thursday. He earned some relaxing time off the hot seat a long time ago. Here¿s hoping there is a warm beach and an umbrella drink in his very near future.

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"I feel like I've got a lot of coaching left in me. I'm going to look at some options," the 65-year-old Wilkens said. "I still have a love of the game. I'll be involved one way or another." Wilkens had one season left on his contract. The team said it will pay him what he's due after reaching what it called "a mutual agreement that concludes Wilkens' tenure with the team." The won a franchise-best 47 games in Wilkens' first season and 42 last season, making the playoffs both times. But this time the team was devastated by injuries - Toronto didn't suit up all 12 players in any game this season. "If you can't practice because you've only got five or six that are healthy, you can't implement what you want to do," Wilkens said. "Injuries had a lot to do with it. I would have liked to have us healthy. That would have been great, but it wasn't to be." All-Star missed nearly half the season with knee and ankle problems. He acknowledged Wilkens couldn't do much about the injuries but said the team didn't respond to Wilkens' laid-back style. "We didn't really know our roles and what we were supposed to do," Carter said. "We should look for a coach that understands the game today. To heck with the past." Wilkens holds the record for coaching victories (1,292) and losses (1,114). Wilkens passed Bill Fitch for the dubious mark with an April 4 defeat to San Antonio. Toronto lost its final eight games, including Wednesday night's finale in Cleveland. The ' record was their worst since they went 16-66 in 1997-98. "This season was a disappointment of the highest order for all of us associated with the Toronto ," general manager Glen Grunwald said. "In discussions with Lenny about the future direction of the team, it became apparent to both of us that parting company would best serve his interests, as well as those of the organization." Grunwald had made his feelings clear Tuesday night, after the lost to Miami in their final home game. The GM took a microphone and addressed the remaining fans, telling them: "We will not stand for this any longer." The struggled even when Carter returned, and Grunwald wasn't happy with the physical condition of his players or their effort on defense. "We are the 29th team in opponents' field-goal percentage. You can't be the worst team in the NBA on defense," he said. Grunwald met with Carter and co-captain this week. "We needed to change who we were," Carter said. "We were going down. Look at our record." Wilkens and John Wooden are the only people to enter the Basketball Hall of Fame as a player and coach. Wilkens, a nine-time All-Star, was honored in 1996 as one of the NBA's 50 greatest players. He also made the list of the league's 10 greatest coaches. Wilkens coached Seattle to the 1979 NBA title, and also coached in Portland, Cleveland and Atlanta. In 1995, he earned his coaching 939th victory to overtake Red Auerbach for the record. A year later, he coached the U.S. team to the gold medal at the Atlanta Olympics.

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