LOS ANGELES – The Los Angeles Lakers fired coach Mike Brown on Friday after a 1-4 start to his second season in charge.
Lakers General Manager Mitch Kupchak announced the surprising move several hours before they hosted Golden State. Assistant coach Bernie Bickerstaff coached the Lakers against the Warriors while the club’s top brass searches for Brown’s replacement after just 18 months in charge.
“The bottom line is that the team is not winning at the pace we expected this team to win, and we didn’t see improvement,” Kupchak said at the Lakers’ training complex in El Segundo.
Los Angeles began the season with championship expectations after trading for center Dwight Howard and point guard Steve Nash, adding two superstars alongside Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol. But the Lakers went 0-8 during the preseason last month for the first time in franchise history before stumbling into the regular season with an 0-3 start, losing to Dallas, Portland and the Clippers.
While Lakers fans had reacted with their usual panic whenever the 16-time NBA champions lose a few games in a row, Kupchak and owners Jim and Jerry Buss publicly appeared to stand firmly behind Brown, the longtime Cleveland Cavaliers coach.
After finally beating Detroit last Sunday for their first win, the Lakers looked listless again in a loss at Utah on Wednesday, dropping to last place in the Western Conference. Los Angeles’ defense has been largely poor, and the players still haven’t figured out the new offense installed by Brown during training camp.
Combined with their aging core of talent and a massive payroll, Kupchak and the owners decided they couldn’t wait another game to start winning. Brown was dismissed in a morning meeting.
“We’re not looking five or 10 years down the road,” Kupchak said. “This team was built to contend this year. There’s no guarantee that this team can win a championship, but we feel that it can be deeply in the hunt. We’re also aware that our players … are getting older, so our feeling is that we can contend at this level for another couple of years.”
Brown was hired in May 2011 to replace 11-time NBA champion Phil Jackson, signing a four-year deal worth roughly $18 million in May 2011. Kupchak said the eight-figure payout they’ll have to make on Brown’s contract wasn’t a factor in their decision.
“It’s a pretty direct message to all of us,” Gasol said while leaving the Lakers’ shootaround Friday morning in El Segundo. “There’s no messing around. It’s time for all of us to step it up.”
In a brief news conference, Kupchak did nothing to squelch speculation that Jackson could return for a third tenure with the Lakers. Jackson, 67, walked away from the club in 2011 with few apparent hard feelings, and his health has markedly improved during his time away from the NBA.
Kupchak said he hasn’t reached out to any candidates for the job, but thinks it’s likely the Lakers will hire an experienced coach who isn’t currently working. Kupchak said he hasn’t talked to Jackson, but Jim Buss’ sister, Lakers executive Jeanie Buss, is Jackson’s longtime girlfriend.
“When there’s a coach like Phil Jackson, one of the all-time greats, and he’s not coaching, I think you would be negligent not to know that he’s out there,” Kupchak said.