Though there had been whispers regarding Mike Brown's increasingly uncertain job security, the Los Angeles Lakers surprised many this morning by severing ties with the coach, who was just five games into the second season of a four-year contract he signed in 2011.
As recently as this morning, ESPN's Marc Stein suggested that Brown could save his job with improved performances in the coming weeks.
Los Angeles Lakers coach Mike Brown's job would be in immediate jeopardy if the team's six-game homestand is deemed unsuccessful by team officials, according to sources close to the situation.
Sources told ESPN.com that the Lakers, while having publicly expressed support for Brown in the wake of a 1-4 start, have privately grown sufficiently concerned about the state of the team to the point that management is prepared to look seriously at a coaching change at this early juncture if L.A. can't take advantage of what look to be multiple winnable games in the upcoming stretch.
Apparently, the team felt they couldn't even wait that long to make a change, and replaced the 2009 NBA Coach of the Year with assistant coach Bernie Bickerstaff, at least for the time being.
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.”
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.
There's no question that the team's lackluster performance during the first five games of the season played a large role in Mitch Kupchak's decision, but what certainly didn't help Brown's case was L.A.'s 0-8 preseason record, because that's what initially raised red flags within the organization.
That's because with a roster featuring Kobe Bryant, Dwight Howard, Pau Gasol, Steve Nash and Metta World Peace, there's just no justification for a 1-12 record in the team's last 13 games, including preseason contests.
However, that doesn't mean that Brown was without supporters entirely, according to Yahoo! Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski.
In conversations on Thursday, Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak made a case to Lakers owner Jerry Buss and executive vice president Jim Buss to give Brown more time before deciding to fire him, sources told Y! Sports. Brown also made a case to management that he could get the Lakers into championship contention, sources said.
Unfortunately for Brown, neither Buss wanted to wait to see if he could right the ship, and they opted to start fresh with a new coach.
It appears that they have some candidates in mind.
After news of the firing broke, Yahoo! Sports' Michael C. Jones offered his take on who the top contenders for the Lakers' coaching vacancy will be, saying that Phil Jackson, Mike D'Antoni, Brian Shaw, Jerry Sloan and Nate McMillan would be in the mix.
In Jones' opinion, Jackson is the front-runner at first glance.
The 11-time NBA champion has the most history with the Lakers, and would undoubtedly be the most popular hire should the Lakers' brass put their egos to the side and get him to come back. Owner Jim Buss divorced himself from the triangle offense that won the franchise five titles when he hired Brown in the first place, and it's a likely reason why he didn't hire Brian Shaw, who was Kobe Bryant's first choice following Jackson's retirement.
For this to happen it would take a host of unlikely events to occur in succession, but it's so crazy that it actually makes sense.
Though it'd be heart-warming for many Lakers fans to see Jackson back in his usual seat at the Staples Center, a new voice such as D'Antoni or Sloan should garner serious consideration as well.
But at least for now, this is Bickerstaff's team.