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Chaney fired, Wilkens hired

NEW YORK -- Isiah Thomas pulled off a shocker on a bizarre day even by New York Knicks standards, firing Don Chaney and his two top assistants yesterday and hiring Lenny Wilkens as head coach.

The 66-year-old Wilkens is the NBA leader in career coaching victories and losses.

"I think he's a perfect fit," Thomas said.

Chaney and assistants Brendan Malone and Lon Kruger received the news after arriving at Madison Square Garden late in the afternoon.

"I'm not here today to point out negative things about Don or our former coaching staff," said Thomas, who also considered himself, Chuck Daly, and Mike Fratello for the job. "At the end of the day I thought Lenny would be the better man for the job."

The coaching change represented the second major move of Thomas's frenzied tenure since replacing team president Scott Layden late last month.

Thomas has turned over nearly half the roster and a majority of the coaching staff, acquiring an All-Star in Stephon Marbury and a Hall of Famer in Wilkens.

Assistant Herb Williams coached the Knicks to a 120-110 victory over the Orlando Magic last night. The Knicks entered the game with a record of 15-24, in fifth place in the weak Atlantic Division.

Thomas also said he would continue to explore making changes, including a possible trade for Portland's Rasheed Wallace.

Chaney was 72-112 in two-plus seasons in New York and 337-494 in 12 seasons overall as an NBA head coach. Wilkens, who played at Providence College, has a career coaching record of 1,292-1,114. He was fired by Toronto at the end of last season.

"With the change this afternoon, I'm just still shocked and surprised that it went down," Knicks forward Kurt Thomas said. "Don handled this like he handles everything -- superb."

Chaney put the team through its morning shootaround after reading in the Daily News that he would be replaced by Fratello, who later released a statement saying he had no agreement "in place." Thomas said no offer was ever made to Fratello.

Wilkens was expected to take over the team today.

"I know he's a winner. I know he's won. Everyone I know who's had contact with him said he's the ultimate players' coach," Marbury said.

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