Had the good luck to get word of this while I was at dinner, so let’s play catch up. Jason Quick of The Oregonian broke the story, and here’s what he wrote:
"Tom Penn, the right-hand man of general manager Kevin Pritchard, has been fired by the Trail Blazers, The Oregonian has learned. Tuesday’s decision comes nearly 10 months after Penn was promoted to vice president of basketball operations.It is unknown why Penn was fired, but it is believed to have come from owner Paul Allen and not Pritchard."
Briant T. Smith of The Columbian followed up with this:
"According to the source, there had been rumblings in recent weeks within the organization that Penn’s job was at stake. The primary reason was that Penn had a tendency to rub many of those he worked with the wrong way, the source said, and was seen as being a “ladder climber.”"
UPDATE: Wendell Maxey tweets:
"as per blazers on tom penn…..”larry miller cites philosophical differences as the reason for dismissal”."
"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 Port 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."
Safe to say that nobody saw this coming. It’s a strange move, to say the least, given that the playoffs are a month away and the Blazers will be doing heavy scouting during the NCAA Tournament in the coming weeks as well. Penn has recently been interviewed in various capacities for Blazers material and, though I’ve never spoken to the man myself, it appeared as though he had a solid foothold in the organization.
But sometimes people get overeager, or they just make the wrong moves to try and further their career. As Smith reminds us, Penn turned down the GM job from the Minnesota Timberwolves last year. It’s tough to speculate with next to no information, but if you look at the Blazers’ ladder, the two jobs ahead of him are Pritchard’s GM title and Larry Miller’s Team President job. I have a completely unsubstantiated hunch that it may have been the latter position he wanted. (This is now a little more likely with the update above from Maxey). But who knows? All we can say is that, to get fired from a very important position so suddenly, during a crucial time of the season, you have to really, really earn the boot.
This is where we reiterate Quick’s report that the firing was believed to have come from owner Paul Allen, and not Pritchard.
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.