LOS ANGELES - Phil Jackson could return as head coach of the Los Angeles Lakers after Mike Brown was fired Friday following a disappointing 1-4 start to the season. Assistant Bernie Bickerstaff agreed to guide the club for the next few games while the Lakers search for his replacement. Jackson has been mentioned along with Mike D'Antoni, Brian Shaw and Jerry Sloan as top candidates to fill the vacancy.
Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak told a press conference that management would contact Jackson for a possible return to the bench. "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," Kupchak said. "We're putting together a list but we have not reached out to anybody at this time."
The 67-year-old Hall of Fame coach owns a record 11 NBA championship rings, including five with the Lakers, before walking away from the game two seasons ago.
With the off-season additions of Dwight Howard and Steve Nash joining fellow future Hall of Famers Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol, the star-studded Lakers were early favorites to reach the NBA finals. But they opened 0-3, their worst start in 34 years, and had a difficult time adapting to Brown's Princeton-style offense. Rather than wait for a possible turnaround, management decided to dismiss Brown in the second year of a four-year, $18 million contract.
"This team was put together to contend for a championship," Kupchak said. "We weren't winning, we weren't seeing improvement and we made a decision. Maybe it would have changed a month or three months down the road, but with this team we didn't want to wait three months."
Brown said he had no hard feelings over the decision. "I have great respect for the Buss family and the storied Lakers' tradition and I thank them for the opportunity they afforded me," he said in a statement. "I have 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 on."
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