Within one day, the Lakers' most pressing questions veered from how quickly they'd learn the Princeton-based offense to who will become their head coach.
The Lakers believed they solved the former problem by firing Coach Mike Brown on Friday following a 1-4 start, confusion over a revamped offense and uncertainty on when and if that would change.
"It's hard to say and sit here and predict how this season would've turned out if he had a full season," Lakers General Manager Mitch Kupchak said in press conference at the Lakers' practice facility in El Segundo.
The Lakers plan to address the latter problem by hiring a new coach, "the sooner, the better." Kupchak said he won't require "championship experience." He conceded there's a remote possibility the candidates would be NBA assistant coaches.
When asked if players would be consulted about the hire, Kupchak said "maybe." No players, including Kobe Bryant, were consulted about Brown's hiring in May 2011.
Some candidates could include former Knicks Coach Mike D'Antoni, former Utah coach Jerry Sloan, former Portland coach Nate McMillan and former Lakers assistant and current Pacers assistant Brian Shaw. But Kupchak only addressed one candidate by name.
"When there's a coach like Phil Jackson, one of the all-time greats and he's not coaching, you'd be negligent not to be aware that he's out there," Kupchak said. "We're putting together our list and attack plan. We have not reached out to anybody at this time."
Jackson won six of his 11 NBA championships in two separate coaching stints with the Lakers (1999-2004, 2006-2011). Jackson currently lives in Los Angeles during the NBA season with his longtime companion, Jeanie Buss, Lakers executive vice president of business operations. Jackson is also said to be in much better health in his knees and hips and rejuvenated after spending the past NBA season enjoying retirement. Still, Jackson had said during his last season that he had no interest in experiencing the grind of an NBA season.
One report indicated center Dwight Howard told the Lakers he wants them to hire Jackson. But he denied such an assertion before entering the players' lounge before the Lakers (1-4) played the Golden State Warriors (3-2) Friday night at Staples Center.
"I don't want to talk about that," Howard told this newspaper. "I didn't tell anyone anything."
The Lakers say they told Brown about his firing about 9:30 a.m. on Friday, after the team's front office in owner Jerry Buss, vice president of player personnel Jim Buss and Kupchak mulled for over the past day whether they'd pull the trigger.
The Lakers, who currently field a $100 million payroll, decided to do so despite the financial ramifications. Brown had about $10 million left on his contract. He had another guaranteed year remaining and a partial guarantee in 2013-14.
His departure came quicker than former Lakers Coach Del Harris, who was fired 12 games into the 1999 season.
"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.
Bernie Bickerstaff, Brown's longtime mentor since hiring him as an unpaid intern in 1992 with the Denver Nuggets, will coach the Lakers on an interim basis. Meanwhile, Lakers assistants Eddie Jordan, Steve Clifford, Darvin Ham and Chuck Person will stay until further notice.
"You're being kind with the word surprised," Bickerstaff said. "I was shocked."
Plenty of the Lakers' players expressed similar sentiments.
In a video that has since gone viral, Kobe Bryant epitomized the Lakers' frustration with a so-called "death stare" during the waning seconds of the Lakers' 95-86 loss Wednesday at Utah. The general public presumed Bryant directed his cold expression toward Brown, but he emphatically denied it.
He also reverted to his Facebook page shortly after Brown's firing became official.
"I had a good relationship with Mike and I will continue to have one," Bryant wrote on his Facebook page. "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."
But that wasn't enough.
The Lakers hired Brown in May 2011 following Jackson's retirement, walking away impressed from his job interview with his meticulous work ethic, defensive background and ability to carry the Cleveland Cavaliers to a 272-138 record. His tenure in Cleveland included the 2009 NBA Coach of the Year award, an NBA Finals appearance and two Eastern Conference Finals appearances before getting fired after the 2009-10 season.
Yet, Brown entered his first season with circumstances that Kupchak conceded made him give him a "free pass." That's because Brown led the Lakers to the Western Conference semifinals through unique circumstances, including the lockout-shortened year, the nixed Chris Paul trade, the loss of Lamar Odom and Pau Gasol "feeling scarred for the whole year" over persisting trade rumors.
The Lakers were hardly as patient with their sluggish offense and defense, even if injuries to Bryant (right foot), Steve Nash (fracture in left leg) and Howard (surgically repaired back) limited the starting lineup to only one preseason appearance and two regular-season games.
"It's a pretty direct message to all of us that there's no messing around," Gasol said. "It's time for us to step it up and have respect and appreciation for how hard Mike worked and how much he strived for this team to do well."
They will have to take that approach under different leadership, a move one prominent Laker believed was necessary.
"They must turn to Phil Jackson," Magic Johnson said on ESPN. "I don't know if Phil wants to coach or not, but this team is built for a Phil Jackson-coached team. They have the size and he knows what to do offensively and defensively with the Lakers. The fact that now he has a point guard like Steve Nash, Coach Jackson will know what to do with this team."