LOS ANGELES — The Los Angeles Lakers fired coach Mike Brown on Friday after a 1-4 start to his second season in charge.
General manager Mitch Kupchak announced that assistant coach Bernie Bickerstaff would coach the Lakers against the Warriors Friday night while the club’s top brass searches for Brown’s replacement after just 18 months in charge.
‘‘The bottom line is that the team is not winning at the pace we expected this team to win, and we didn’t see improvement,’’ Kupchak said at the Lakers’ training complex in El Segundo, Calif.
The Lakers 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 for the first time in franchise history before stumbling into the regular season with an 0-3 start, losing to Dallas, Portland, and the Los Angeles Clippers.
After beating Detroit Sunday for their first win, the Lakers looked listless again in a loss at Utah on Wednesday, dropping to last place in the Western Conference. LA’s defense has been poor, and the players still haven’t figured out the new offense installed by Brown during training camp.
Combined with their aging core of talent and a massive payroll, Kupchak and owners Jim and Jerry Buss decided they couldn’t wait another game to start winning. Brown was dismissed in a morning meeting.
‘‘We’re not looking five or 10 years down the road,’’ Kupchak said. ‘‘This team was built to contend this year. There’s no guarantee that this team can win a championship, but we feel that it can be deeply in the hunt. We’re also aware that our players . . . are getting older, so our feeling is that we can contend at this level for another couple of years.’’
Brown was hired in May 2011 to replace 11-time NBA champion Phil Jackson, signing a four-year deal worth roughly $18 million in May 2011. Kupchak said the eight-figure payout they’ll have to make on Brown’s contract wasn’t a factor in their decision.
‘‘It’s a pretty direct message to all of us,’’ Gasol said while leaving the Lakers’ shootaround Friday morning. ‘‘There’s no messing around. It’s time for all of us to step it up.’’
In a brief news conference, Kupchak did nothing to squelch speculation that Jackson could return for a third tenure with the Lakers. The 67-year-old Jackson walked away from the club in 2011 with few apparent hard feelings, and his health has markedly improved during his time away from the NBA.
While Lakers fans had reacted with their usual panic whenever the team loses a few games in a row, Kupchak and Buss publicly appeared to stand firmly behind Brown, the longtime Cleveland Cavaliers coach. Brown had pleaded for patience with his integration of new players into his lineup while implementing a new offense.
Brown’s players were behind him in public, with Bryant suggesting critics of the new offense should give them time to get it working. Bryant missed a significant portion of training camp while dealing with minor injuries, and Nash has a small fracture in his leg that has kept him out of the lineup since the Lakers’ second game.
Yet the Lakers had given no indication they might pull one of the earliest coaching changes in NBA history until Kupchak gathered the players Friday morning to inform them of the decision.