EL SEGUNDO — It took Bernie Bickerstaff some time to mull over whether he wanted to be the Lakers’ interim head coach.
After all, he was still trying to process the news that the Lakers fired Mike Brown after a 1-4 start.
“You’re being kind with the word surprised,” Bickerstaff said. “I was shocked.”
Bickerstaff wasn’t just speaking as a supportive assistant coach. Bickerstaff had been Brown’s long-time mentor. Bickerstaff, who had been a general manager with the Denver Nuggets in the early 1990’s, helped Brown actually enter the NBA coaching realm when he hired him in 1992 as an unpaid intern. Brown then parlayed that into a video coordinating job and scouting position for five seasons. He then joined Bickerstaff as one of his assistant coaches with the Washington Wizards.
Bickerstaff was also speaking from experience, compiling more than 40 years of NBA experience as an assistant coach, head coach and front office executive. He couldn’t recall another time when a coach was fired after five games.
Still, Bickerstaff decided to stay.
“I consented,” he said. “If i might plagiarize for a minute and borrow something from my professional football brethren, we will try to win the game.”
For at least one night, Bickerstaff kept things entertaining by mimicking Herm Edwards, joking with the media and reiterating a simple message.
“I have no expectations other than tonight,” Bickerstaff said. I have no control over anything. Whatever Mitch asks me to do, that’s what I’ll do.”
That means he doesn’t know how long he will coach. He maintains he has no idea if the Lakers would even consider him a head-coaching candidate. Bickerstaff refused to analyze to what degree he’ll change Brown’s Princeton-based offense or change up rotations.
For a team reeling in uncertainty, Bickerstaff wanted the team not to worry about the stress.
“We’re in that foxhole together,” Bickerstaff said. “You’re probably together more so than you are with your families. There’s a bond. Basically we’re all hurt. There was a mutual respect.”
But that didn’t prevent Bickerstaff from sticking up for a long-time friend and colleague.
He praised Brown’s resiliency: “He’ll land. I have no reservations about that.”
Bickerstaff suggested the Lakers’ 1-4 start went beyond any misgivings the front office had about Brown’s coaching: “I don’t want to whine. I think we’re ahead of the game for the simple reason as this: we thought Dwight would be playing in January. Dwight’s playing and has five games plus exhibition games under his belt. We’re ahead of the game in that situation. It takes time to bring everything together.”
He repeatedly expressed admiration for Brown’s coaching: “Mike’s a great coach. Mike’s won a lot of basketball games. He has been in the finals and has coached the two best players in LeBron and Kobe Bryant.”
But Bickerstaff’s main message involved something simple: “Just try to win the game.”
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