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Blazers: "Philosophical Differences" Led to Tom Penn's Firing


Happier Times. Rose Garden. February 2009. Pictured left to right: Blazers President Larry Miller, Owner Paul Allen, General Manager Kevin Pritchard, Vulcan CEO Tod Leiweke, Then Assistant GM Tom Penn. Picture: Ben Golliver | Blazersedge

The Portland Trail Blazers announced tonight that they have relieved Tom Penn, their Vice President of Basketball Operations, of his duties, effective immediately. Continue reading for full coverage, updated throughout the night.


Update (9:00PM)

The Portland Trail Blazers have sent out the following text message to media...

Tom Penn relieved of Blazers Vice President of Basketball Operations duties. President Larry Miller cites philosophical differences as the reason for dismissal.

Update (9:11PM): 

The Blazers have issued a full Press Release on their website. It reads...

Portland Trail Blazers Team President Larry Miller announced today that Tom Penn has been relieved of his duties as Vice President of Basketball Operations, effective immediately. 

Miller cited philosophical differences as the reason for the dismissal of Penn, who joined the Trail Blazers as assistant general manager in 2007. 

"We felt it was in the organization's best interest to move in a different direction at this time," Miller said. "This was not an easy decision, as Tom has played an integral role for us the past three seasons. We thank him for his contributions and wish him the best in the future." 

Before joining the Trail Blazers, Penn served as assistant general manager/legal counsel of the Vancouver/Memphis Grizzlies.    

The Blazers used an insanely large font to announce the firing on their website. (Apparently it's a fixed font size on all stories. Can we do the man a favor and shrink it just this once?)

Earlier, Jason Quick of The Oregonian caught up with Tom Penn....

Penn late Tuesday night said he was "surprised" and "disappointed" when team president Larry Miller called him into his Rose Quarter offices Tuesday afternoon and informed him he was being relieved of his duties.

Penn, however, would not say why he was fired.

"I can't speak to specifics and I prefer not to,'' Penn said. "I don't think it is appropriate.''

Penn apparently rules out the possibility that he was negotiating with another team, which was speculated earlier. Click through above to read the full story.

Update (9:25PM)

Kristen Blake, wife of recently-traded Steve Blake weighs in on twitter...

First steve and trav. Now Tom. Sad. Smh. =(    

As does Jonathan Givony of Draft Express, who was apparently scouting the Big East conference tournament in New York City at the same time Penn was.

Crazy to see Tom Penn getting fired. Was just sitting next to him few days ago at the Garden. He turned down Minnesota's GM job this summer.

Update (9:39PM)

Coup from Rip City Project writes...

What's worth considering is whether or not this hurts Pritchard's ability to make moves or not, given Penn's expertise with the NBA Salary Cap and Collective Bargaining Agreement - a CBA that is going to look very different in two years when the current one expires.

Also, if this precedes Penn getting a GM job somewhere else, he probably would have resigned from his position were that his ultimate plan. It's more expensive for an organization to fire someone than to let them go work elsewhere of their own accord.

If you're bored, you can always read my interview with Penn from September 2008, where he touches on a number of topics and lists Jerry West, Hubie Brown and Chuck Daly among his mentors.

Update (9:45PM)

John Canzano weighs in, noting the strange timing and nature of the move, and ...

A Blazers source tells me that Penn absolutely rubbed owner Paul Allen the wrong way in the war room during the draft that netted Portland Greg Oden. "Paul may never have recovered from that," source said. But it raises some questions about why Allen would give Penn a raise and promotion so recently. Something more had to have happened for Allen to move so shrewdly to hand Penn the pink slip on Tuesday.


It's possible that the Vulcans viewed the Blazers management team as top heavy and made a move, but more plausible at this juncture that they learned something that set this in motion.    

Given Penn's behavior over the past month and the timing of the move, it's very, very unlikely this was about thinning out the upper management team.

Canzano also notes that Penn denies expressing interest in other NBA jobs, "including the Clippers/Grizzlies."  The Grizzlies, of course, already have a General Manager and have no reason to make a change as they are currently enjoying their best season in recent memory.  So yeah.

Update (10:21AM)

Dwight Jaynes weighs in on twitter...

Chances are 80 per cent this is not basketball related. Also-- f unny how many bought the "he was offered the Minnesota job" story.

Jaynes references disputed reports from early last summer when Penn may or may not have been formally offered Minnesota's GM position, which eventually went to David Kahn.  Jaynes maintained at the time, despite reports out of Minnesota, that Penn was not formally offered the position before he re-upped with the Blazers for a promotion and salary increase.

Wendell Maxey also notes...

heard back from a person close to the clippers on their gm status - they are happy with neil olshney. not sure where penn goes from here.

Update (10:39PM)


Picture via

Given Penn's departure, the Blazers' management team now has an obvious hole when it comes to salary cap management and understanding the intricacies of the Collective Bargaining Agreement. A league source has already floated Oklahoma City's Assistant GM Rich Cho as one potential replacement for Penn.  

Cho currently handles the same duties Penn did -- managing salary cap and CBA issues and negotiating contracts --  for the Thunder.  Cho is said to have a relationship with Blazers General Manager Kevin Pritchard that dates back to before the above picture was snapped at the 2007 NBA Draft lottery drawing.  Pritchard and Cho are pictured showing off the lucky charms that helped them land the #1 and #2 picks respectively. 

Cho is considered an elite mind when it comes to cap management and has aided Thunder GM Sam Presti's dramatic turnaround of the franchise.  

Here's Cho's official bio on the Thunder's website.

Just as this is an awkward time of the NBA calendar to fire Penn, however, it's also a somewhat awkward time to attempt to hire someone with such a coveted skillset.  Perhaps the thinking here was "the sooner, the better" as every day between now and the offseason is critical for planning and roster management.

Update (11:32PM)

Adrian Wojnarowski tweets up a storm...

Two officials who spent time in last 10 days with Port GM Kevin Pritchard and fired No 2 guy, Tom Penn, spoke of "awkwardness" and "tension"    

League sources have been describing unrest in front office for months, centered on Pritchard's inability to get new contract after Penn did.    

Pritchard helped Penn leverage Portland with Minny job, and sources say GM expected he could get new deal too. Ownership declined, emphatically.

Many believed Penn was destined to run team, but clearly something caused momentum to change lately and Penn lost favor. And his job.    

Timeline wise, Sloan was exactly 10 days ago, March 6.  The Big East tourney ran from Tuesday, March 9, through Saturday, March 13.  Penn was back in Portland on Sunday, March 14. 

Update (12:22AM)

Brian T. Smith tweets...

Source said it was known early Tuesday that Blazers had fired Penn. League executives were calling Blazers, wondering about Penn's status.    

-- Ben Golliver | | Twitter