The Los Angeles Lakers fired coach Mike Brown after the team with the National Basketball Association’s highest payroll posted just one win in its first five games.
He’ll be replaced on an interim basis by assistant Bernie Bickerstaff in what is the quickest coaching change in team history. Del Harris was let go 12 games into the lockout-shortened 1999 season.
The search for a replacement will begin immediately, General Manager Mitch Kupchak said in a statement.
“This was a difficult and painful decision to make,” Kupchak said. “Mike was very hard-working and dedicated, but we felt it was in the best interest of the team to make a change at this time.”
The move comes less than 48 hours after Lakers Executive Vice President Jim Buss gave Brown, in his second season with the team, a vote of confidence following the latest loss.
The club traded for former Most Valuable Player Steve Nash and three-time Defensive Player of the Year Dwight Howard in the offseson. Kobe Bryant, the Lakers’ leading scorer, urged fans this week to be patient with the revamped roster.
The Lakers, the only team with a payroll topping $100 million, are last in the Pacific Division heading into tonight’s game against the Golden State Warriors that kicks off a six-game homestand.
Brown was hired as the replacement for Phil Jackson, who led the franchise to five championships. The Lakers went 41-25 in Brown’s first season, losing to the Oklahoma City Thunder in the Western Conference semifinals. The coach signed a four-year contract worth about $18 million when he joined the franchise.
Nash, 38, hasn’t played since breaking a bone in his leg during the second game of the season. Howard, who is averaging 22.4 points, 9.6 rebounds and 2.4 blocks, has said he’s still recovering from offseason back surgery that forced him to withdraw from the London Olympics.
The acquisition of Nash suggests the Lakers are committed to fielding a winning team now while Bryant is still an elite player. Much like baseball’s New York Yankees, the Lakers are a premier brand whose business interests are driven by a winning team and star power.
Armed with a $3 billion television contract with Time Warner Cable, the Lakers are the centerpiece of two regional sports networks, one English language and the other Spanish.
According to the Orange County Register, Brown’s son, Elijah, who plays basketball at Mater Dei High School in Los Angeles, received death threats via Twitter after the Lakers fourth loss of the year. Brown, 42, previously spent five seasons coaching LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers, reaching the 2007 NBA Finals.
Brown implemented the so-called Princeton offense with the Lakers, who under Jackson became known for running what’s called the triangle. Brown had said the Princeton offense, which optimizes ball movement, player screening and cuts to the basket, would alleviate some of the burden placed on the 34-year-old Bryant, a 17-year veteran who has a nagging foot injury.
Bickerstaff’s 30-plus-year NBA career includes both coaching and front-office positions. Most recently, the 68-year-old was coach and general manager of the Charlotte Bobcats from 2004 to 2007. He also coached in Seattle, Denver and Washington, and has a 415-517 record.
The Lakers opened the season with 11-4 odds to win their 17th title, second to James’s Miami Heat, according to the online sports book Bovada.lv. They’re now 4-1, still second to Miami.