“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. We appreciate Mike’s efforts and contributions and wish him and his family the best of luck.”
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. After finally beating Detroit last Sunday for their first win, the Lakers looked listless again in a loss at Utah on Wednesday. The Lakers‘ 1-4 record is the worst in the Western Conference.
While Lakers fans had reacted with their usual panic whenever the 16-time NBA champions lose a few games in a row, Kupchak and Lakers owner Jim Buss publicly appeared to stand firmly behind Brown, the longtime Cleveland Cavaliers coach hired to replace 11-time NBA champion Phil Jackson.
“He told us the decision was made,” Gasol said. “We didn’t have a good start, and this is a team that was built to win. That’s what we’re all here to do.”
Los Angeles went 41-25 and reached the second round of the playoffs last season in Brown’s debut, losing to Oklahoma City. Brown received criticism even for that largely successful season, with Magic Johnson predicting Brown would be fired if the Lakers lost to Denver in the first round.
Brown implemented a new offensive scheme this fall that didn’t appear to suit his players’ talents, yet the Lakers also played spotty defense, Brown’s specialty. The Princeton-based offense received ridicule, but Bryant and his teammates largely defended the motion scheme, saying they needed time to implement it.
“I don’t think we lost faith at any moment,” Gasol said. “I think we all believed in what we were trying to do. We also understood it was going to take a little bit of time to do things the way they should have been done. As far as our game, it wasn’t happening as fast as we all wanted it to.”
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.