Lakers' Mike Brown on hot seat
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.
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The homestand begins Friday night against the banged-up Golden State Warriors, who'll be without injured center Andrew Bogut and key reserve Brandon Rush, and continues through Nov. 20 with games against Sacramento, San Antonio, Phoenix, Houston and Brooklyn.
The Lakers have had a healthy Steve Nash in the lineup for only 1½ of their five games so far thanks to a leg injury, while fellow newcomer Dwight 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 has also been playing through a foot ailment.
Yet sources maintain that patience in the organization is starting to erode as the wait continues for signs of improvement in the Lakers' play.
The Lakers are off to the worst start in the Western Conference despite carrying the league's largest payroll at just over $100 million, which would trigger an estimated luxury-tax bill at season's end of nearly $30 million.
On Wednesday, in an interview with ESPNLosAngeles.com's Ramona Shelburne after a 95-86 road loss to the Utah Jazz, Lakers executive vice president Jim Buss said of the mounting pressure on Brown: "You don't start 0-3 for the first time since we've owned the franchise without being on top of it. No matter what you have to be aware. That doesn't mean change is coming. That just means you have to be aware."
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ESPN.com senior NBA writer Marc Stein says Mike Brown's job could be in jeopardy if the Lakers struggle during Los Angeles' upcoming homestand.
Buss, though, did insist that he still has confidence in the coach he pushed for harder than anyone else in the organization when Phil Jackson retired from the Lakers' bench for the second time after a humbling second-round exit from the 2011 playoffs.
"I have no problems with Mike Brown at all," Buss said. "He just works too hard and he's too knowledgeable for this to be happening.
"So either the (new Princeton offensive) system is flawed or something's going on. Or, like the Triangle, it's very hard to pick up and understand. I'm not a basketball mind like he is or the players are, and the players are fine with it, so I just have to be patient."
The challenge there is that heading into the season, Buss acknowledged that "this team was built to win now," raising questions as to how patient the Lakers are willing to be.
"You have to give it time to understand (what's going on)," Buss said. "I don't know if there's an actual game total that would make me impatient. 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. But at this time, I'm fine with what's going on. It's a learning process for the players. As long as everybody is on the same page, I think we're fine."
After practice Thursday, Bryant admitted that he's dismayed by the first 1-4 start in his 17-year career but labeled himself as Brown's "biggest supporter" in the organization.
Brown, meanwhile, told reporters he remains convinced that his players "still believe" that a turnaround is forthcoming as the team builds continuity and returns to health.
"For us, (belief is) the biggest thing right now, especially while we're trying to find our way," Brown said.
Said Howard: "Right now, there's a lot of noise. We're trying to figure out how to play with each other. We're trying to figure out where we're going to get our shots. Everybody is trying to just figure each other out and how we can put this thing together. So once the noise is settled, we can all just have a clear mind. We'll be fine."
Although there are numerous quality coaches available for hire, sources stress that it's not yet clear what sort of direction L.A. would pursue if it decides that an early season change on the bench is unavoidable.
Mike D'Antoni, Nate McMillan, Jerry Sloan and Howard's outspoken former coach in Orlando -- Stan Van Gundy -- are among the accomplished coaching names who are presently unattached. The prospect of Jackson's third stint coaching the Lakers is also sure to be talked about if the star-studded roster continues to slump.
The Lakers' projected starting five of Bryant, Howard, Nash, Pau Gasol and Metta World Peace have combined for 33 career All-Star selections. The additions of Nash and Howard via trades in the offseason marked just the fourth time in league history that any one team acquired two players with at least six trips to the All-Star Game.
In Friday's editions of the Los Angeles Times, Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak said: "Expectations are high, there's no doubt. The city is impatient. At what point do you lose patience? Is it 1-15? Is it a higher number? A lesser number? I don't know right now. But we have a game Friday night and we're going to win it and try to build off that."
Kupchak continued: "Nothing's unfair. Everybody has an opinion and they have a right to their opinion. You're free to decide what you think is fair and not fair.
"I think it's fair to say after five games we didn't think we'd be 1-4, 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."