Bryant, in his 17th season with the Lakers, posted his thoughts on Facebook after shootaround.
‘‘Tough day,’’ Bryant wrote. ‘‘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'm not sure what direction we are heading in next. All I can do is focus on the here and now.’’
Brown’s players all were fully behind him in public, with Bryant vocally suggesting critics of the Lakers’ 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. Nash could be sidelined into December.
Yet the Lakers had given no indication they might demolish their coaching staff until Kupchak gathered the players Friday morning to inform them of the decision.
While Lakers fans reacted with their usual panic whenever the 16-time NBA champions lose a few games in a row, Kupchak and Buss publicly appeared to stand firmly behind Brown, who had pleaded for patience, saying the Lakers might not hit their stride until January after so many changes.
‘‘I have great respect for the Buss family and the Lakers’ storied tradition, and I thank them for the opportunity they afforded me,’’ Brown said in a statement issued by the Lakers. ‘‘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.’’
Coaches reacted with surprise around the league after Brown’s dismissal was announced. He is thought to be the first NBA coach to make it fewer than six games into a season since Dolph Schayes left the Buffalo Braves after one game in 1971.
‘‘When you see one of your coaching peers, part of your fraternity, not getting an opportunity, it’s tough,’’ Miami coach Erik Spoelstra said. ‘‘We know that this business is like. At the same time, really, we just want an opportunity when you’re coaching, a full season, health, et cetera, all those factors to be right. Mike is an excellent coach. He’s proven it. He’s got a track record. That’s a shame that it came down to that.’’
Boston coach Doc Rivers said the firing was ‘‘awful,’’ noting he had similar feelings when Orlando fired him following a 1-10 start in late 2003. Pistons coach Lawrence Frank sarcastically suggested five games ‘‘was enough of a sample’’ to judge the Lakers, saying he thought Brown ‘‘would have done a great job.’’
‘‘Look, all of us in coaching understand the drill, so it’s not a sympathy card,’’ Frank said. ‘‘You just really wish for anyone that you’re given a legitimate shot.’’
Along with the usual urgency accompanying any Lakers season, Howard is under contract for just one more season before the six-time All-Star center can become a free agent. The Lakers’ core players around Howard are all over 30, and the 38-year-old Nash barely made his debut before getting sidelined.
Los Angeles went 41-25 and reached the second round of the playoffs last season in Brown’s debut, losing to Oklahoma City. Brown received criticism even for that largely successful season, with Magic Johnson predicting Brown would be fired if the Lakers lost to Denver in the first round.
Brown implemented a new offensive scheme this fall that didn’t appear to suit his players’ talents, yet the Lakers also played spotty defense, Brown’s specialty. The Lakers’ Princeton-inflected offense received ridicule, but Bryant and his teammates largely defended the motion scheme, saying they needed time to implement it.
‘‘I don’t think we lost faith at any moment,’’ Gasol said. ‘‘I think we all believed in what we were trying to do. We also understood it was going to take a little bit of time to do things the way they should have been done. As far as our game, it wasn’t happening as fast as we all wanted it to.’’
The 42-year-old Brown has won just about everything except a title. He led Cleveland to the 2007 NBA Finals and went 272-138 over five seasons with the Cavaliers, becoming the most successful coach in franchise history.
Bickerstaff was a head coach in Charlotte, Seattle, Denver and Washington, going 415-517.
AP Sports Writers Paul Newberry, Howard Ulman and Jeff Latzke contributed to this report.