With the team off to a disappointing 1-4 start, the Los Angeles Lakers fired head coach Mike Brown today.

“This was a difficult and painful decision to make,” Lakers General Manager Mitch 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. We appreciate Mike’s efforts and contributions and wish him and his family the best of luck.”

Brown was in his second season as the team’s coach. Last season, he led the team to a 41-25 regular-season record and an NBA Western Conference semi-final loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder.

The Lakers–despite the major off-season acquisitions of two-time MVP Steve Nash and all-star center Dwight Howard–were winless in the preseason this year and then went 0-3 to begin the season before splitting the past two games.

In a brief statement, Brown said he has “great respect for the Buss family and the Lakers’ storied tradition and I thank them for the opportunity they have afforded me.”

“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,” he said.

Rumors swirled this week of a rift between Brown and superstar Kobe Bryant over the team’s play and apparent difficulty in adapting to Brown’s new offensive strategy. Video of Bryant glaring at Brown during Wednesday’s road loss to the Utah Jazz–described in some media circles as a “death stare”–fueled speculation that Brown’s job may be in jeopardy.

Bryant wrote on his Facebook page that he wished Brown the best.

“I’ve seen coaches as well as friends come and go,” Bryant wrote. “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 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.

“As a team, we must focus our energy on tonight’s game. We must block out the weight of today’s news and simply do our jobs to the best of our ability. I’m not sure what direction we are heading in next. All I can do is focus on the here and now.”

Assistant Coach Bernie Bickerstaff will coach tonight’s game against the Golden State Warriors.

Speaking at a news conference in El Segundo, Kupchak told reporters the team has a list of potential replacement coaches in mind. He declined to give specifics, but acknowledged the availability of former coach Phil Jackson, who led the team to five championships.

On his Twitter page, Lakers legend Magic Johnson wrote, “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.”

Brown coached the Cleveland Cavaliers for five seasons before being fired following the 2009-10 season. He then spent a year as an NBA studio analyst for ESPN.

Brown had a 272-138 record with the Cavaliers, and was named the NBA’s Coach of the Year for the 2008-2009 season, when he coached Cleveland to a franchise-best 66-16 record.

Brown guided the Cavaliers to NBA finals in 2007 for the only time in their history, but they lost in four games to San Antonio.

Brown graduated from the University of San Diego in 1992 and began his NBA career that year with the Denver Nuggets as a scout and video coordinator.

Following five seasons with Denver, he became an assistant coach with the Washington Wizards in 1997, remaining there until 2000 when he began a three-season stint as an assistant coach with San Antonio.

Brown was the Indiana Pacers’ associate head coach in the 2003-2004 and 2004-2005 seasons.