After a 1-4 start to the season, the Los Angeles Lakers have fired coach Mike Brown and immediate speculation turned to whether Phil Jackson was again the right man for the job.
In the short term, Brown was replaced on an interim basis by assistant coach Bernie Bickerstaff. He was informed Friday morning he'd fill in while the team searches for a permanent replacement.
General manager Mitch Kupchak said the rest of the coaching staff would also remain for Friday's game against Golden State at Staples Center but was vague about the future of his assistant coaches.
"They'll be there tonight," Kupchak said. "Beyond that, it depends."
Kupchak said Friday at a press conference that he's open to player input based on the veterans on the roster. The people's choice is Jackson, but it's unknown whether the 67-year-old with 11 NBA titles as a head coach is ready to forfeit the freedoms of retirement.
Jackson led the Lakers to NBA championships in five of his 11 seasons as their head coach from 1999-2011.
"When there's a coach like Phil Jackson, one of the all-time greats and he's not coaching," Kupchak said, "We'd be negligent not to be aware."
The decision to fire Brown was made by owner Jerry Buss. He has made no secret of his affinity for Jackson.
Jackson's longtime girlfriend is Lakers' vice president Jeanie Buss.
Jackson said last month that he was enjoying retirement and resisted overtures from the Knicks at the end of last season. Speculation surrounding Jackson intensified Friday when it was learned he was replaced as keynote speaker at a major investment seminar due to an unexpected conflict. But the Los Angeles Times reported Friday that Jackson had not been contacted about the job.
Among alternative options were top available free agent coaches, the type of personalities that can handle a $100 million payroll and the inflated expectations that accompany that level of output: Mike D'Antoni, Jackson, Nate McMillan and Jerry Sloan, who resigned as head coach of the Utah Jazz in 2011 after 34 seasons, are likely the top candidates for the position.
D'Antoni coached new Lakers point guard Steve Nash in Phoenix and runs a fast-break offense that would be in direct contrast to Brown's Princeton-style system.
Sloan, 70, had been a finalist to be Charlotte Bobcats head coach before he withdrew from consideration.
The Lakers begin a six-game homestand Friday night.
Brown's job was not believed to be in imminent danger, but the slow-paced offense either didn't work, or was too complex, Kupchak said.
"They either weren't getting it, or it was going to take too long," he said.
The team had maintained public support for Brown despite the team having the worst record in the Western Conference, but privately there were rumblings about a team with an $100 million payroll off to such a poor start, according to ESPN.
Injuries have been a problem for the Lakers. Key offseason acquisitions Nash and Dwight Howard have seen limited playing time because of leg and back ailments. Star guard Kobe Bryant has been nursing a foot injury.
As of Thursday, Lakers executive vice president Jim Buss had expressed confidence in Brown.
"I have no problems with Mike Brown at all," Buss then told ESPN. "He just works too hard and he's too knowledgeable for this to be happening. "So either the (offensive) system is flawed or something's going on."
How bad would it have to get before Buss made a change?
"I don't know if there's an actual game total that would make me impatient," Buss told ESPN. "I know if we're 1-15, I don't think that would be very good. I'm sure that would be a panic button."
Kupchak had echoed those comments in an interview Thursday with the Los Angeles Times.
"I think it's fair to say after five games we didn't think we'd be 1-4," Kupchak said, "but we have a lot of new players, we have some injured players and we're introducing some new concepts. All these things get factored in. We'll continue to monitor the team and we understand expectations."
In his second season with the Lakers, Brown has endured criticism for the rough start and a second-round exit from the playoffs last season. His son even received a death threat this week on Twitter.
But Brown said it's important for the players and coaches to believe in each other "especially while we're trying to find our way."
Brown's brief run ended with a 42-29 record. He replaced Jackson in 2011, signing a three-year, $18 million contract that includes a remaining $10 million guaranteed.
Brown previously was 272-138 as coach of the Cleveland Cavaliers. He was fired weeks before LeBron James chose to depart for Miami as a free agent in July 2010.
Rather, he was polite.
Brown issued a statement Friday, according to ProBasketballTalk.com: "I have great respect for the Buss family and the Lakers' storied tradition and I thank them for the opportunity they afforded me. I have a deep appreciation for the coaches and players that I worked with this past year and I wish the organization nothing but success as they move forward."