Mitch Kupchak Explains Mike Brown’s Firing
Senior NBA Writer & College Basketball Editor
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Los Angeles Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak met with the media Friday afternoon to discuss the firing of Mike Brown as head coach at length, the coaching search moving forward and the state of the team until a new coach is brought in. Here are the highlights from the press conference:
The decision behind firing Mike Brown
“Mike is a good man, hard-working maybe one of the hardest working coaches I’ve ever been around. The bottom line is the team was not winning at the pace 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. Tonight’s game Bernie Bickerstaff will be the head coach and will act as the head coach until we start the process to look for a new head coach.
“You can argue was last season a part of the process was preaseaon a part of the process. After five games we weren’t winning, we weren’t seeing improvement and we made a decision. Maybe it would have changed. A month down the road or three months down the road. But with this team we didn’t want to wait three months and find out it wasn’t going to change.
“There’s a defensive system, offensive system, and there’s how you handle players. We did struggle to score. We introduced a new offense, I think to some degree it was unfair to be categorized as the Princeton offense. It really wasn’t the Princeton offense. There was derivatives of the Princeton offense, but there was a lot more mixed into it but there was a system. The success that I think Mike was hoping for didn’t come very quickly. As I mentioned we had to make a quick decision.
“It wasn’t made out of panic. We were aware of this team’s progress through training camp and the beginning of the season. Only yesterday did we come to the decision to make a change. Obviously, everyone in this room knows we went 0-8 in the preseason, which doesn’t mean a whole lot, but we are 1-4 now. It didn’t come out of nowhere. It’s something that’s out there that we talked about internally, continuing to support mike. But after our loss to Utah we came to the decision this morning to make a change.”
Injuries to Kobe Bryant and Steve Nash making them hesitant to fire Brown
“You can say that. You could. We took it into consideration. It was discussed. It’s not like we didn’t discuss that amongst the three people that were involved in this decision. Obviously, we still decided to make a decision.”
How Brown was viewed after last year
“I would say it was an incomplete evaluation. What he went through last season wasn’t really fair. Making a trade that fell a part, one of the players has moved on – Lamar Odom – and the other player was scarred for a complete season. Then we made another trade as we approached the trade deadline to get a younger ball handling point guard. And we did no worse than we did the year before. It’s tough to grade him, plus on top of that it was a strike-shortened season. So on top of that it’s tough to give a coach a grade, maybe you call it a free pass for a year and let’s see how we do this year.”
Whether the hybrid Princeton offense was the wrong offense to use
“It remains to be seen. Obviously, we’re making a change, so we’re not comfortable with a couple of facets of the way the team was being coached. Coaches make decisions going into the season very aware of the decisions they make, it’s not like Mike didn’t think about what would happen with an offense like this and how a guy like Steve Nash would fit into it. As I mentioned earlier, it wasn’t a straight forward Princeton offense, there were derivatives that allowed the team to take advantage of Steve’s skills. So, it’s hard to sit here and predict how the season would have turned out if we had a full season. It could have turned out just fine, but we were not willing to take this chance.
“[The offense] was a little odd. It’s a complex offense. When we introduced the triangle it seems like decades ago there was the same degree of skepticism on the players face. So there were some similarities. It certainly didn’t come about quickly. In fact, I never thought we got to the point where the offense was flowing. You see some flashes of it but we never saw a consistent flow throughout the course of a game.
“They either weren’t getting it or it was going to take too long for them to get it and we weren’t willing to find out which of the two it was.
“I think we’d like to see something the players can pick up on maybe a little bit quicker. As I mentioned, I’m not sure we have the time to implement something pretty complex. We want to start winning games, find out how good we really are.”
Thoughts on the defense
“It was a little bit of a concern. It was not so much that there was no defense being played. In the Utah game I thought we had a great stretch in the second half defensively, but we couldn’t score. Going back to the two main reasons we made a change: it was the win-loss record and the fact that we didn’t see improvement. I guess we didn’t see a consistent performance because there was a game or two where we did pretty good offensively. In the Utah game as I mentioned we played good defensively, but we couldn’t seem to put together a consistent spread of offensive and defensive performances.”
Did player give input and did Brown lost their support
“No input from the players that I’m aware of. Yesterday afternoon last evening and this morning was the final determination of the decision.
“Nothing from a player. We saw frustration. Quite a great deal of frustration but there was some that we were seeing. But, really it came down to ownership and management looking at the record looking at the improvement level and wondering a month or two or three down the road were we going to be in the same spot.
“I think there was plenty of emotion. They played hard. I saw a lot of frustration. Players making passes that they thought somebody might be there to catch it but there wasn’t. Clearly there were emotions. Everyone cares. I don’t think that was a problem.”
Did Dwight Howard’s pending free agency factor into the decision
“Not something that was discussed between the three decision makers. Obviously we know he’s a free agent this summer and you want to make the experience for him as good as possible, but we have a lot of other people we’re trying to please as well, we have a lot of fans and players, it’s not just about one person.”
Timetable for coaching search
“The sooner the better. We don’t have a timetable and quite frankly because this happened so quickly. The reality is you can’t call around and gauge coaches interest in this job, in the fraternity that exists, a coach wouldn’t say he was interested as long as someone has the job so we haven’t even begun the search but we do have a list that we’ve put together and we will go through that list in an orderly fashion.
“We’re not looking five or 10 years down the road. This team was built to contend this year. There’s no guarantee this team can win a championship but we feel they can be deeply in the hunt. We are aware that players are under contract for another year or two and are getting older. So our feeling is we can contend for a couple years. That’s our focus right now.”
The possibility of looking to other staffs for Brown’s replacement
“It’s certainly a possibility that you go to another team. I think the bigger possibility is you look to another team for an assistant coach. Clearly great coaches or good coaches in this league who have jobs would not be let out of their contract with their team, so that’s not really a realistic possibility. There is a remote possibility that you look at assistants in the league and of course teams at that point would not stand in a way of a coach advancing his career, but I think it is more likely that we would look to coaches not presently employed.”
Considering former Lakers head coach Phil Jackson
“When there’s a coach like Phil Jackson, one of the all-time greats, and he’s not coaching I think we’d be negligent not to be aware that he’s out there. As I mentioned earlier we’re putting together our list and an attack plan. We have not reached out to anyone at this time.
“It doesn’t have to be a coach with championship experience.”
Getting player’s input on who should be the next head coach
“Maybe. We have veterans on this team, two of which have almost 17 years. Others have played over 10, 12 years and have played for many coaches, perhaps a coach or two that we’re considering. We’ll run it pass one of our veterans, not for their approval, but tell us about this person. That’s not something we’ve decided to do yet, but I wouldn’t rule it out.”
Responding to Pau Gasol’s quote about this “sending a message to the players”
“That wasn’t a part of what we’re trying to do. Obviously it’s going to have that affect. I did address the players and I made it clear. You get evaluated on winning. Maybe a player would take it that way.”
Bernie Bickerstaff’s approach and chances of having the interim tag removed
“He and I sat down for a half hour or 45 minutes and we basically had the same discussion that I’m having with everyone here today. Why, how did you come to this decision, what did you see on the court. He understands our concerns. He’ll make some changes, maybe try to keep things a little bit simpler tonight, but you can’t change everything in a six hour time period. So my guess is you’ll see a lot or some of the same with some different offensive sets.
“We don’t have a coach to replace Mike right now. We have an interim coach. There’s no guarantee, although it’s an attractive job, I think we’ll get a coach, but if we don’t get the coach we want and Bernie is doing a great job crazy things happen in this league. Going into it and the way I explained it to Bernie, that’s not the plan, but it’s certainly a possibility.”
In Related: Of course, along with Kupchak everyone wants to hear what Lakers leader Kobe Bryant thinks about Brown’s dismissal. He took to his official Facebook account to make a statement:
“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. 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.”