Lakers fire coach Mike Brown after 1-4 start

Associated Press Modified: November 9, 2012 at 9:49 pm •  Published: November 9, 2012
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LOS ANGELES (AP) — Mike Brown followed an 11-time NBA champion coach with the Los Angeles Lakers, taking charge of a roster packed with aging talent and a franchise anticipating more titles.

And after just 71 regular-season games, the Lakers decided Brown wasn't the man for a pressure-packed job.

The Lakers fired their coach on Friday after a 1-4 start to his second season in charge, making one of the earliest coaching changes in NBA history.

Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak announced the surprising move several hours before the club hosted Golden State. Assistant coach Bernie Bickerstaff agreed to run the Lakers against the Warriors while the club's top brass began what's likely to be a swift search for Brown's replacement just 18 months after his hiring.

"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 sky-high 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.

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 acknowledge they still haven't figured out the new offense installed by Brown during training camp.

"They either weren't getting it, or they were going to take too long to get it," Kupchak said. "And we weren't willing to wait to see which of the two it was."

With a combination of an aging core of talent and a massive payroll, Kupchak and owners Jim and Jerry Buss decided they couldn't wait even one more weekend to start winning. Brown was dismissed in a morning meeting before the Lakers began a six-game homestand.

"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."

Bickerstaff said he was "shocked" by Brown's firing, echoing the feelings of virtually every assistant coach and player. The 68-year-old veteran coach only joined Brown's staff in September, but agreed to take over on an interim basis when Kupchak, his former player in Washington, asked him.

"We have a professional obligation to come to work and do our jobs," Bickerstaff said. "The emotional part of it has to be set aside. ... I just don't want the guys looking over at the bench tonight. I want them to go play and have some fun. You can't make a multitude of changes in six, seven hours."

In his brief news conference, Kupchak did nothing to squelch speculation Phil Jackson could return for a third tenure with the Lakers. The 67-year-old Jackson walked away from the club in 2011 with few apparent hard feelings, and his health has markedly improved after knee replacement surgery during his time away from the NBA.

Kupchak said he hadn'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. Jackson still spends most of his time in Los Angeles, even visiting the Lakers' offices on occasion — and 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.

Mike D'Antoni also is a likely candidate for the job, given the former Phoenix and New York coach's ties to the Lakers' roster. Nash enjoyed a long stretch of success in D'Antoni's up-tempo offense with the Suns, winning back-to-back MVP awards, and Bryant was a big fan of D'Antoni as a player while he grew up in Italy.

Brown, the longtime Cleveland Cavaliers coach, was hired in May 2011 to replace Jackson, signing a four-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."

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