Mike Brown was fired as coach of the Los Angeles Lakers after the team started the NBA season by losing four of its first five games, Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak said on Friday.
The firing came only hours ahead of the Lakers playing host to Golden State, a game in which the squad will be guided by assistant coach Bernie Bickerstaff on an interim basis. A search for a new head coach is already under way.
"This was a difficult and painful decision to make," Kupchak said. "Mike was very hard-working and dedicated, but we felt it was in the best interest of the team to make a change at this time."
The Lakers have the worst record in the Western Conference but the NBA's largest payroll at more than US$100 million, one that would spark a luxury tax hit of more than US$30 million for owners by the end of the season.
Superstar guard Kobe Bryant has struggled with a foot injury while nagging injuries and his "death stare" glare at Brown during a loss on Wednesday to Utah might have hinted his feelings about the coach, who has almost three full years remaining on a four-year deal worth US$18 million.
Injuries have also hampered the team's two star off-season acquisitions, guard Steve Nash and centre Dwight Howard.
Howard is still trying to find top form after back surgery earlier this year while Nash has been healthy for only one full game so far this season because of a leg injury.
The Lakers also boast Spanish playmaker Pau Gasol and were expected to contend for a title but they went winless in pre-season games and lost their first three games before beating winless Detroit 95-86 last week.
Former Lakers star player, coach and part-owner Magic Johnson said in a Twitter posting that he never thought Brown should have been coaching the Lakers.
"Feel bad for Coach Mike Brown, who's a great guy, but don't think he was the right guy for the job in the first place," Johnson tweeted.
Former Lakers coach Phil Jackson, who guided the Lakers to five NBA titles before retiring in 2011, was among those mentioned as possible replacements. Brown replaced Jackson in the job before the start of last season.
The Lakers went 41-25 under Brown last season, losing to Oklahoma City in the second round of the NBA playoffs.
Brown coached Cleveland from 2005-2010, guiding the team to the 2007 NBA Finals when LeBron James was sparking the Cavaliers' attack. Brown went 272-138 during his time in Cleveland.