David Benoit has ended his tenure as the head coach of the Saitama Broncos, The Japan Times has learned.

Benoit had a meeting with Broncos owner Toshihiko Narita last Friday and gave him his resignation letter, or what he called his “official letter of non-contract renewal.” It was written in English and Japanese and done so in a respectful way, according to Benoit.

The former NBA player’s contract was to expire on May 31. In essence, Benoit made a decision before the Saitama front office had a chance to decide whether it would renew his contract or look elsewhere for a new coach.

Now, the team will need to find a replacement for Benoit after a disappointing 19-33 season which began with a 5-0 start. Benoit’s club went 21-23 in 2007-08, his first season at the helm.

“I just felt like maybe it was time for me to move on,” Benoit said in a phone interview on Tuesday.

“I really tried to improve this team and help it get better, and for two years in a row . . . it just didn’t happen.”

“(But) I felt like I couldn’t accomplish what I wanted to accomplish here,” he added, reflecting on his time with the Broncos. “In the end, of course I’m disappointed but this is a business.

“I’m not really blaming the company or anything. . .”

Benoit, a forward for eight seasons in the NBA (primarily with the Utah Jazz), played for Saitama during the 2005-06 and 2006-07 seasons. He retired after the ’06-’07 season, one in which Saitama went 15-25, and replaced Kenji Yamane as head coach.

Benoit and his wife have five children, ranging in age from a newborn baby to 12 years. He said he’d like to remain in Japan and coach for another team in the bj-league. He described his commitment to Japanese basketball as “long term.”

After Golden Week, he plans to make phone calls and find out what his options are.

Broncos assistant coach Kazuto Aono informed the team’s Japanese players that Benoit won’t coach the team next season. Benoit notified the team’s foreign players about his decision.

Two other former NBA players — Joe Bryant (Tokyo Apache) and John Neumann (Rizing Fukuoka) — coached in the bj-league this season.

Switching topics to this season’s NBA playoffs, Benoit predicts the Lakers will win the title. He said either the Cavaliers or Celtics will advance to the NBA Finals to face Los Angeles.

Ryukyu wins opener

Jeff Newton lived up to his MVP billing in the opening game of the bj-league’s Western Conference semifinals on Tuesday, scoring a game-high 21 points and pulling down 26 boards in the host Ryukyu Golden Kings’ 76-69 victory over the Rizing Fukuoka.

Game 2 will be played at 2 p.m. on Wednesday at Naha Municipal Gymnasium in Okinawa.

Newton, who helped the Osaka Evessa win three bj-league titles before joining Ryukyu before the season, was 7-for-11 from the field and 7-for-10 from the free-throw line. The 2008-09 MVP also made two steals and blocked one shot.

Shigeyuki Kinjo added 17 points and knocked down three 3-pointers for the Golden Kings, who are now 9-0 against Fukuoka this season. Anthony McHenry had a 14-point game, Chris Ayer scored 10 and Yosuke Sugawara added 8, including 4-for-4 from the line.

For the Rizing, the West’s No. 4 seed, swingman Trenton Drafts had a team-high 16 points, Marlyn Bryant and Kohei Mitomo contributed 14 points apiece, Takanori Goya added 11 and Tsuyoshi Kawazura 10.

Both teams struggled from 3-point range. Fukuoka was 6-for-31 (19.4 percent), while Ryukyu made 3 of 21 shots (14.3 percent).

The Rizing also had a poor shooting performance on 2-point shots, making 38.5 percent (20-for-52) of them. Fukuoka forward Michael Parker, the league’s leading scorer this season, is sidelined with a knee injury.

The Golden Kings led 31-26 at halftime and held a six-point lead entering the fourth quarter.

Point guard Naoto Takushi’s basket gave them a nine-point edge with 6:31 left in the game and a Kinjo 3-pointer increased the lead to 68-55 with 4:06 remaining.

The Rizing cut the deficit to five in the final minute, but came up short.

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