LOS ANGELES - Mike Brown was fired as coach of the Los Angeles Lakers after the team started the NBA season by losing four of its first five games, Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak said Friday.
The firing came only hours ahead of the Lakers playing host to Golden State, a game in which the squad will be guided by assistant coach Bernie Bickerstaff on an interim basis. A search for a new head coach is already under way.
"We weren't winning, we weren't seeing improvement and we made a decision," Kupchak said. "Maybe it would have changed down the road. But with this team we didn't want to wait three months and find out it wouldn't change."
It was second-fastest ouster of an NBA coach to start a season. Dolph Schayes resigned as the Buffalo Braves' coach after the 1971-1972 opener.
The Lakers have the worst record in the Western Conference but the NBA's largest payroll at more than $100 milllion.
"It wasn't made out of panic," Kupchak said of a decision made late Thursday night. "We went 0-8 in preseason and we're 1-4 now. It's not like this came out of nowhere."
Brown, who had almost three full years remaining on a four-year deal worth $18 million, was trying to install an offensive scheme that had players struggling.
"They either weren't getting it or it was going to take too long for them to get it and we weren't willing to wait to find out which it was," Kupchak said.
"We'd like to see something the players can pick up on a little bit quicker. I'm not sure we have the time to implement something really complex."
Superstar guard Kobe Bryant has struggled with a foot injury and gave Brown a 'death stare' glare at Brown during a loss on Wednesday to Utah but praised him in a farewell Facebook posting.
"Tough day," Bryant said on his Facebook page. "I've seen coaches as well as friends come and go. No matter how many years I've been playing, it's still hard to deal with.
"I had a good relationship with Mike and I will continue to have one. I wish him and his family nothing but the best. I spoke with him today and thanked him for all of his hard work and sacrifice.
"I'm not sure what direction we are heading in next. All I can do is focus on the here and now.""
Kupchak said players had no input in the decision to fire Brown but they might be asked about potential replacement candidates.
Injuries have also hampered the team's two star off-season acquisitions, guard Steve Nash and center Dwight Howard.
Howard is still trying to find top form after back surgery while Nash has been healthy for only one full game so far this season because of a leg injury.
"It was discussed," Kupchak said of the injury issue. "But we still decided to make the decision.
"We were wondering a month or two or three down the road if we were going to be in the same spot. It could have turned out just fine. But we weren't willing to take that chance."
The Lakers also boast Spanish playmaker Pau Gasol and were expected to contend for a title. They lost their first three games before beating winless Detroit 95-86 last Sunday.
"This team was built to contend this year," Kupchak said. "There's no guarantee we will win a championship. We certainly should be in the hunt."
"It's wins and losses. Mike knows this."
Brown thanked the club in a statement.
"I have a deep appreciation for the coaches and players that I worked with this past year," he said. "I wish the organization nothing but success as they move forward."
Former Lakers star player, coach and part-owner Magic Johnson said on Twitter that he never thought Brown should have been coaching the Lakers.
"Feel bad for Coach Mike Brown, who's a great guy, but don't think he was the right guy for the job in the first place," Johnson tweeted.
Former Lakers coach Phil Jackson, who guided Chicago to six NBA titles and the Lakers to five NBA crowns before retiring in 2011 and being replaced by Brown, was among those mentioned as possible replacements.
"When there's a coach like Phil Jackson, one of the all-time greats, and he's not coaching, we would be negligent not to know he's out there," Kupchak said. "We have not reached out to anyone at this time.
"Certainly I think we would look to an experienced coach. I think it's more likely we would look to coaches that aren't presently employed."
Johnson tweeted that he would not mind a return by his former coach Pat Riley, who is now an executive with the reigning NBA champion Miami Heat.
"I'd love to see Phil Jackson or Brian Shaw. Wish Pat Riley was available," Johnson tweeted. "The Lakers need a championship caliber coach."
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