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Farewell, Tom Penn

As Ben has kept you apprised of this evening the internet is alive with reports that Kevin Pritchard's right-hand man, Tom Penn, has been sacked by the club.  The official team release cites "philosophical differences".  The rest of us are left to puzzle out what that means and what it adds up to.

Tom Penn came from the Memphis organization with the reputation of having a shrewd eye for cap maneuvering and a deep knowledge of the CBA.  Having worked under Jerry West, among other NBA notables, he also had aspirations on the strictly basketball side.  Young, confident, and working for one of the rising teams in the league he was driven to make his mark from the start.

Penn's public contributions to the Blazers can best be described as "value added".  Kevin Pritchard nearly always defers credit to his staff as a whole, preferring to speak of decisions in terms of "we" rather than "I".  But he was quick to laud Penn for pointing out obscure facets of deals which opened up trade exceptions or cap-saving potential, giving the Blazers extra assets or wiggle-room over and above the obvious value of their trades.  Whether or not the team was able to take full advantage of those perks, they certainly exuded confidence that they were getting the maximum out of their deals and cap structure.  That will be Tom Penn's legacy here.

On the flip side, Penn's desire to make that mark may have been behind the "philosophical differences" that led to his departure.  For all of the titular glory he enjoyed, the Blazers hired him primarily as a capologist.  The chance to grow and flex his basketball muscles was certainly a bonus for him but with Pritchard himself being relatively new in the position at the time of Penn's hiring, it's not likely they were looking for a true backup GM, let alone GM #1A.  Subtle rumblings coming out of Blazer headquarters in recent months had Penn with his fingers in a few pies, none of them relating to the cap.   Tracing the practical chain of command in Portland's hierarchy is challenging in the best of times.  Perhaps Penn's (alleged) expansion of power was planned.  On the other hand those philosophical differences may have resulted from the organization discovering it had a V.P. of Basketball Operations who wanted to spread his wings farther than the team was comfortable with or prepared for.  In the end the Blazers likely still wanted a great capologist who could work as part of the decision-making team.  If Penn wanted more, if heads butted over wouldn't be the first time that happened in business.  (In fact it's an eerie parallel to some of the on-court roster issues the Blazers are facing.)  Sometimes the direct resolution is the best resolution.

What will the effect on Portland's future be?  Provided they have, or can find, another guy who's proficient in cap lore they probably won't suffer unduly.  This version of the cap has a short shelf-life anyway so the clean slate would have happened soon anyway, with or without Penn.  But as Ben pointed out just below, given the traditional draft-day activity Portland enjoys attending the soiree without a cap-wizard would be something of a party foul.  The tricky thing is that few will know what opportunities were or weren't missed in Penn's absence.  Getting solid information on potential trades is difficult.  Finding cap minutae among a thousand possible moves is all but impossible.  Only the insiders will know for sure.  That means only time will tell whether the Blazers' future moves suffer in comparison to their immediate past.  But now that Penn has coached the staff on looking for intricacies it stands to reason that the organization can keep working from the playbook even if its author is gone. 

As for the man himself, the Penn will probably turn out mightier than the sword...or technically the axe.  My guess is that if his name wasn't already in the hat for open front office positions it soon will be, even if he has to put it there himself.  Judging by the public face the organization gave him he's merited, and will get, another look. 

It's never pleasant for an organization to lose one of its key executives in this manner but unless things are completely sideways in the front office business will continue as usual.  Despite the tension of the day both sides will say they're better off in the long run.  Penn will interview.  The team will have somebody new working the calculator and the rulebook soon.  For now Portland's proper public focus is on the dozen remaining games and excelling in the playoffs.  Anything beyond that, namely everything Penn would have been involved in, is secondary.  

--Dave (