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Wednesday, June 18
O'Neill signs on for at least two seasons

Associated Press

TORONTO -- Kevin O'Neill, known for his intense, in-your-face style as a college coach, was introduced Wednesday as the man to succeed the laid-back Lenny Wilkens with the Toronto Raptors.

O'Neill replaces the Hall of Famer, who left the Raptors "by mutual agreement'' with one year remaining on his contract. The team is coming off a 24-58 season in which Wilkens set the league record for career losses.

Raptors star Vince Carter has said Wilkens' easygoing style wasn't effective.

O'Neill could be considered the anti-Wilkens. He was the head coach at Northwestern, Tennessee and Marquette, and had a career record of 190-197 at the college level.

The lead assistant to former Detroit Pistons coach Rick Carlisle the last two seasons, O'Neill, 46, vowed not to be as demonstrative as he was in college.

"That reputation was earned, but I'm also a smart guy. Without bragging, I'm intelligent. I know when to be demonstrative now and when not to be, and I'm in a different role than I ever was as a head coach,'' O'Neill said.

O'Neill also served as an assistant to Jeff Van Gundy in New York three years ago.

"There will be no chair throwing, no maniacal coaching,'' O'Neill said. "Once upon a time I was fiery. When you're young and ignorant you're fiery. I've gotten a little bit older and wiser.''

Considered a defensive specialist, O'Neill takes over a team that was one of the worst at that end of the court, ranking last in the NBA in opponents' field goal percentage.

General manager Glen Grunwald wanted a coach that put an emphasis on defense. He also wanted a coach with a strong worth ethic.

"He is going to be a guy that works harder than anyone, and do all he can to get our franchise back on track,'' Grunwald said.

The Raptors were also looking for a coach that would work for a low salary -- something around $1.6 million per year -- since the Raptors still owe money to Wilkens. With no previous NBA experience as a head coach, O'Neill fit the bill.

He received a two-year deal with a team option for a third.

"I look at us as being a team that needs to win right now,'' O'Neill said. "I don't see us rebuilding.''

O'Neill wouldn't say the Raptors are a playoff team.

"I not going to say that. That would be unfair to say until I have a good feel on where our team is at,'' O'Neill said.

He said a healthy Carter is the key. Carter hasn't played a complete season in three years because of knee injuries. O'Neill said he's received unwarranted criticism.

"When you're injured like that it's easy for people to constantly take shots at you. I don't think Vince should be held solely responsible for what goes on here,'' said O'Neill, who indicated he will spend some time with Carter. "He is a great player. He is a top five player in this league when healthy. He can win a game for you single-handled.''

O'Neill beat out Seattle assistant Dwane Casey and Milwaukee assistant Sam Mitchell.

Raptors assistant coaches Jay Triano, Craig Neal and Walker D. Russell all have a year remaining on their contracts, but they're not expected to return.

"I'm going to be hiring my own staff,'' O'Neill said. "I have some guys I want to talk to.''

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