Los Angeles Lakers coach Mike Brown has been fired after a disappointing 1-4 start to the season, the team announced Friday.
"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. "I have a deep appreciation for the coaches and players that I worked with this past year and I wish the organisation nothing but success as they move forward."
Assistant coach Bernie Bickerstaff will take over as interim coach for Friday night's home game against the Warriors.
"Today we relieved Mike Brown of his head coaching duties with the Los Angeles Lakers. Mike is a good man. Very hard working, maybe one of the hardest-working coaches that I've ever been around," general manager Mitch Kupchak said. "The bottom line is that the team is not winning at the pace that we expected this team to win and we didn't see improvement. We wish Mike well and we're sorry it ended this way. So, we've decided to move in another direction and make a change."
A source with knowledge of the Lakers' thinking said the firing was done "more to stop what was happening than to pursue anybody else."
Phil Jackson and Mike D'Antoni are the leading candidates to replace Brown, according to a source with knowledge of the situation.
"It's neck and neck," the source said.
A meeting with Jackson could happen by the end of the weekend.
Jackson retired as coach of the Lakers after the 2010-11 season. In his final news conference, he noted that he didn't have much of a relationship with Lakers vice president Jim Buss.
"People took that the wrong way," the source said. "There's no ill will between Jim and Phil."
The Lakers are expected to reach out to both men as early as Saturday morning, as well as several other candidates, which could include former Jazz coach Jerry Sloan, former Blazers coach Nate McMillan and ex-Clippers coach Mike Dunleavy.
The Lakers are expected to move quickly through this process as Bickerstaff only has committed to working a few games.
"I have no control over anything," Bickerstaff said. "Whatever Mitch asks me to do, that's what I'll do."
He did say he was "shocked" by Brown's firing.
"You know the history with Mike Brown and myself, in terms of the genesis of history there as an intern, as an assistant with me in Washington. So, I'm very fond of him and it's a tough situation," he said.
Despite not having a timetable, Kupchak wants a new coach "the sooner, the better."
"Clearly, great coaches or good coaches in this league that have jobs would not be let out of their contracts with their team," Kupchak said. "So that's not really a realistic possibility. I think there is a remote possibility that you look at assistants in the league and of course teams at that point would not stand in the way of a coach advancing his career. I think it's more likely that we would look to coaches that aren't presently employed."
Brown was among three finalists to interview for the job when Jackson, who has won 11 titles, retired. Rick Adelman and former assistant coach Brian Shaw were the others. Adelman is in Minnesota, while Shaw is an assistant in Indiana. The Lakers would need to request permission from Indiana to speak with Shaw, who would be a popular choice with their players. According to sources, they have not done so.
While a local television station reported that Jackson was spotted at the Lakers practice facility on Thursday, one source called that "coincidental" and noted that Jackson is the longtime boyfriend of Lakers vice president Jeanie Buss.
Earlier Friday, sources had told ESPN.com's Marc Stein that the team was using its upcoming six-game homestand to evaluate Brown, but after numerous discussions over the past 48 hours, Lakers management came to a unanimous decision that the team clearly wasn't heading in the right direction and it was best to fire him now.
The decision is in keeping with the Lakers "win now" mentality after acquiring Steve Nash and Dwight Howard in blockbuster trades this summer. Relieving Brown of his duties now also comes at a substantial cost, as he was in just the second year of a four-year, $18 million deal. The final year of that contract was only partially guaranteed.
"We're not looking five or 10 years down the road. This team was built to contend this year," Kupchak said. "There's no guarantee that this team can win a championship, but we feel they can be deeply in the hunt. We also are aware that players are under contract for another year or two, players are getting older, so our feeling is we could contend at this level for a couple years. So that's our focus right now."
The Lakers have had a healthy Nash in the lineup for only 1½ of their five games so far thanks to a leg injury, while Howard has acknowledged that he's still recovering from the back surgery that brought a premature end to his 2011-12 campaign and knocked him out of the London Olympics. Kobe Bryant also has been playing through a foot ailment.
Bryant called Friday a "tough day."
"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," he wrote on his Facebook page. "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.
"As a team, we must focus our energy on tonight's game. We must block out the weight of today's news and simply do our jobs to the best of our ability. I'm not sure what direction we are heading in next. All I can do is focus on the here and now. Mamba out."
The Lakers are off to the worst start in the Western Conference despite carrying the league's largest payroll at just more than $100 million, which would trigger an estimated luxury-tax bill at season's end of nearly $30 million.
The team also has been trying to institute a form of the Princeton offense, a system that relies on reads and ball sharing in order to take some of the offensive load off Bryant. But the talented Lakers went 0-8 during the preseason for the first time in franchise history before stumbling into the regular season with an 0-3 start. After finally winning last Sunday, the Lakers looked listless again in a loss at Utah on Wednesday.
Not only did the new offense not appear to suit his players' talents, the Lakers also played spotty defense, Brown's specialty.
Lakers forward Pau Gasol said the team was still behind Brown.
"I don't think we lost faith at any moment," he said. "I think we 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 and there were different things that didn't play in our favour."
"It's a pretty direct message to all of us," Gasol said. "There's no messing around. It's time for us to step it up."
Lakers legend Magic Johnson reacted to Brown's firing on Twitter.
"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," he tweeted.
As for possible replacements, Johnson tweeted: "I'd love to see Phil Jackson or Brian Shaw. Wish Pat Riley was available."