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Originally published July 7, 2007 at 12:00 AM | Page modified July 13, 2007 at 12:07 PM

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Wilkens quits his position as vice chairman

In this tumultuous offseason, it seems as if every notable figure that connected the Sonics to their past has been fired, traded or left...

Seattle Times staff reporter

In this tumultuous offseason, it seems as if every notable figure that connected the Sonics to their past has been fired, traded or left in free agency as the team's new ownership rebuilds the franchise.

On Friday, vice chairman Lenny Wilkens chose to walk away.

"After much contemplation, I have decided to resign from my position," he said in a statement released through his agent, Lonnie Cooper.

Attempts to contact Wilkens were unsuccessful.

Reached by telephone, Cooper confirmed the resignation. He said Wilkens did not leave because of health reasons, but declined to answer any more questions.

The Sonics made the announcement in an awkwardly worded news release and were vague with details.

Multiple sources within the team, however, speculated this outcome shortly after Bennett hired 30-year-old general manager Sam Presti on June 7 and stripped Wilkens, 69, of basketball-related decisions and his title as team president.

Still, the beginning to the end for Wilkens might be traced to April 26, when he prematurely announced on KJR Radio that he had taken the president's job. Later that afternoon, he reiterated those claims in an interview with The Seattle Times; however, the Sonics' public-relations staff didn't confirm the decision until the next day.

Apparently, Wilkens and chairman Clay Bennett reached an agreement, but the contract was never signed and the Sonics' ownership group was angered about the miscommunication. There was also concern about Wilkens' handling of the coach and GM searches, and some second-guessed the decision to allow his son, Randy, to work as a scout at the NBA pre-draft camp.

Many around the league believed Wilkens, the NBA's career coaching victories leader who led Seattle to its only NBA title in 1979, wanted to return to the sideline. He denied those claims, but admitted that he wanted a strong voice in deciding the direction of the team.

"My position within the organization did not develop the way that I thought it would," Wilkens said in his statement. "I am extremely competitive. I'm driven to win, and I have a deep passion for the game. I wish the Sonics well in the future."

Bennett hired Wilkens as vice chairman on Nov. 29. Formally, his duties were to work in external community relations and business-advancement activities and serve as an adviser on basketball operations. Essentially, the Hall of Fame player and coach was the public face of the Oklahoma City-based ownership group.

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Wilkens campaigned for a new Renton arena and made repeated trips to Olympia to lobby the state Legislature.

"Lenny Wilkens has been a valued advisor to me since we first purchased the Sonics and Storm almost a year ago," Bennett said in a statement released by the team. "His insight into basketball and the Sonics legacy in Seattle helped us greatly as we retooled our basketball operation. He has been an important resource and connection to the community as we continue in our efforts to secure the future of the Sonics in Seattle. I thank Lenny for his service and wish him the very best."

Wilkens' resignation follows last week's trade that sent seven-time All-Star guard Ray Allen to Boston and free agent Rashard Lewis' decision to sign with Orlando. Since the end of the season, the Sonics have let go of coach Bob Hill, GM Rick Sund, lead scouts Dave Pendergraft and Steve Rosenberry, and radio play-by-play announcer David Locke.

Former Sonics assistant Dwane Casey was a finalist for the head-coaching job, but lost out to former San Antonio assistant P.J. Carlesimo.

"They're going in a totally new direction," Casey said.

Percy Allen: 206-464-2278 or pallen@seattletimes.com

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