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 move several hours before they hosted Golden State. Assistant coach Bernie Bickerstaff will coach the Lakers against the Warriors while the club’s top brass searches for Brown’s replacement.
“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 traded for center Dwight Howard and point guard Steve Nash to add 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.
After beating Detroit last Sunday for their first win, the Lakers looked listless again in a loss at Utah on Wednesday. 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 owners Jim and Jerry Buss decided not to wait. Brown was dismissed in a morning meeting.
“We’re not looking 5 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 4-year deal worth roughly $18 million. 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. The 67-year-old 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. 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.
Brown, the longtime Cleveland Cavaliers coach, had pleaded for patience as several new players in his lineup learned the new offense.
“I have great respect for the Buss family and the Lakers’ storied tradition, and I thank them for the opportunity they afforded me,” Brown said in a statement issued by the Lakers.
“I have a deep appreciation for the coaches and players that I worked with this past year, and I wish the organization nothing but success as they move forward.”
Brown is a protégé of San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich. He led Cleveland to the 2007 NBA finals and went 272-138 with the Cavaliers, becoming the most successful coach in franchise history while compiling the league’s best regular-season record in each of his last two seasons.
The 68-year-old Bickerstaff joined Brown’s coaching staff in September. He was a head coach in Charlotte, Seattle, Denver and Washington, going 415-517.