Lenny Wilkens out in Toronto

TORONTO, April 17 (UPI) -- After encountering more injuries than any team in NBA history, the Toronto Raptors and Coach Lenny Wilkens have decided to part company.

Neither party would say if he was fired or resigned.


"I want to thank Lenny for his many contributions," said General Manager Glen Grunwald. "He was the right man at the right time three years ago when he brought stability, dignity, and leadership to our coaching position. Since then, Lenny has always represented the Raptors and the city of Toronto in a first-class manner in good times and in difficult times. You won't find a man of greater character than Lenny Wilkens."

Wilkens, the NBA's career leader in wins and losses with a record of 1,292-1,114, had little chance to succeed this past season with a team that missed a total of 519 manpower games because of injuries, easily shattering the league record of 480.

Even Grunwald admitted as much on Thursday, one day after the team concluded a 24-58 season with an eight-game losing streak.

"In our case, injuries were not an excuse, they were a reality that no team could expect to overcome," Grunwald said. "But 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."


On average, the Raptors missed six players from their 15-man roster every game, and never once had the full complement of 12 players available for every game. The Raptors' star player, Vince Carter, missed 39 games, and forward Antonio Davis missed 29 games.

"If it wasn't for injuries this season, we would have continued to have success," Wilkens said. "But I thoroughly enjoyed my stay in Toronto, and am very much appreciate of the support I've received from our fans, who are the most outstanding in the NBA. Their support of us through the season with all the injuries was remarkable."

Wilkens, 65, a Hall of Famer as a player and coach, became the first to coach 30 years in the NBA this season, but it turned out to be his worst as a coach, with the Raptors' 24 wins eclipsing the 28-54 mark he had with the Atlanta Hawks in 1999-2000.

After being fired by Atlanta, Wilkens was named coach of the Raptors in June 2000. He guided them to a franchise-best 47-35 record and their first-ever playoff series victory in his first season.

"I'm proud to have been the head coach here during a time when the organization jumped from being an expansion franchise to being a legitimate contender," Wilkens said.


In 2001-02, Wilkens overcame the loss of Carter, and guided the Raptors to 12 wins in their last 14 games and an improbable playoff berth with a 42-40 record. The rash of injuries was too much to overcome this time.

"I would say it's probably 98 percent as to the reason why we struggled," Wilkens said. "When you don't have the people you need to practice and play in the games, you're going to sustain more than your share of losses."

Wilkens had a 113-133 record in his three years with the Raptors. He has a year left on his contract, which will be honored by the team.

No timetable has been set in the search for a coach. The future of the staff of assistants Dick Helms, Craig Neal, Walter Russell, and Jay Triano will be determined by the new coach.

Wilkens holds the distinction of having participated in more games (3,641) than anyone else in league history, counting the playoffs and All-Star games. During his past 16 seasons, he guided his club to 13 playoff berths.

He coached the Seattle SuperSonics to the NBA title in 1979, and also coached for Portland and Cleveland.


Wilkens was elected to the Hall of Fame as a player in 1988-89, and as a coach in 1997-98.

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