NBA Roundtable

Tom Penn Fired

In General NBA on March 18, 2010 at 1:26 am

John Canzano reports

The Trail Blazers fired vice president Tom Penn today in what goes down as a curious move. Lots of speculation about the reasons, and timing, and Penn told me that he’s “surprised and disappointed” by the firing. Also, he said, “I suppose people are going to fill the void with whatever story is out there.”

Blazers company line: “Philosophical differences.”

Canzano then adds several notes

— 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 coldly to hand Penn the pink slip on Tuesday. — Kevin Pritchard has huge latitude as a GM, and moves around the organization with a wide berth. So how miffed must have Paul Allen been for Pritchard to be unable to save Penn, who is viewed as “KP’s guy” around the building? Curious also that Pritchard isn’t toeing the company line on this one and is throwing it back at Allen.

— Western conference executive tells me Vulcan headquarters was livid in late summer after they realized Penn played them in getting a raise and promotion out of the phantom Minnesota offer and, “there’s real resentment at Vulcan headquarters at that whole deal.” This source isn’t buying the idea that something new happened on Tuesday that caused Penn’s firing, rather, that the Vulcans decided long ago they were going to blow up Penn the first time they had cause. What was that cause? “I’m not guessing on this, there’s no speculation here, the resentment over the Minnesota thing is real,” source said. “The Vulcans can be vindictive %$&#’s” Keep an eye on the movements of Penn agent Warren Legarie (ex-Blazers GM John Nash’s agent and KP’s agent as well) who was at the center of that situation, and also, has been involved with the Clippers extensively.

Another story on the firing of Tom Penn + some background on him.

Penn came to the Blazers from the Memphis Grizzlies in May of 2007 and served as the team’s assistant general manager until he was promoted to vice president on May 18, 2009.

A former criminal defense lawyer in Illinois, Penn’s duties with the Blazers included negotiating player contracts, structuring player trades, evaluating talent and managing day-to-day basketball operations. Prior to entering sports management, he served as a basketball player agent in 1994.

Around the league he is widely regarded as a salary cap expert. He helped the NBA in the drafting of the 2005 Collective Bargaining Agreement.

His expertise with league rules and the salary cap allowed the Blazers to gain a trade exception in the 2007 NBA draft, which allowed them to make a trade with Phoenix for the rights to Rudy Fernandez.

John Canzano writes another article this time focusing on Kevin Pritchard. He writes that Pritchard should take this is as a warning and look out for his long term future with the Blazers.

“The panderers,” said a source familiar with Vulcan, “are all around Paul trying to justify their existence right now.”

Those guys are intelligent and well educated, but not basketball smart. And that makes them dangerous.

It’s those individuals that Pritchard needs to be most careful about in the coming months. Because they’re blaming the decision to pick Greg Oden instead of Kevin Durant on Pritchard and Penn. And they’re blaming the failure to secure a first-choice free agent last summer on the duo, too.


I don’t think Pritchard’s job security is in any real danger. I think he’ll be given a few more years before his performance is questioned and odds are he’ll be + the Blazers will be very successful by then. A perennial contender.

I also think that a lot of this hoopla is the hangover from a previous era, the Jailblazers era, when the media (Canzano in particular) where highly suspicious + critical of the team. I think this is an overreaction stemming from their tempestuous history.

As for Tom Penn, a highly respected up and coming potential GM has just become available. It’ll be very interesting to see where he lands.

  1. Pritchard’s Job Security Is A Non-Story

    Some follow up reporting from Brian T.Smith (link one + link two + link three — bloody twitter)

    Blazers president Miller on Pritchard: “I don’t know of any animosity or ill feelings toward Kevin. It just doesn’t make sense to me.”

    Blazers president Miller said a senior management group made the decision to fire Penn.

    #Blazers president Miller on perceived animosity toward Pritchard: “That is absolutely being dreamed up.”

    Update: A transcript of the above interview is now up on the Columbian — link

    Replacing Penn

    The Blazers are in no rush to find replacement. Will wait until summer to make hire — link.

    Pritchard’s Agent

    Very good article by Henry Abbott of TrueHoop

    The firing of Penn concerns many fans who are troubled by the potential loss of Pritchard, who orchestrated the team away from a troubled Blazer past, on and off the court.

    “I think their fears are justified,” said Warren LeGarie, agent for both Pritchard and Penn. “We’ve been given no indication that this team sees Kevin as somebody who will be there on a long-term basis. All we’ve seen is them taking away people that Kevin feels are important to his ability to do his job successfully.

    “I’ve been a Blazer fan from early on. I’ve been involved in some way with the team for many many years. I want them to be successful. They gave Kevin an unbelievably wonderful opportunity. But in order to make that opportunity work, he still needs to have people who believe in him around him, and people that he’d like to have, and that’s certainly not the case anymore.”

    I don’t think Portland is considering parting ways with Pritchard but it appears that they’ve created some bad will between the two parties. I don’t think it’s enough for Pritchard to walk but it is a situation that the club should address in order to avoid it escalating and hence becoming a real problem down the road.

  2. Interesting article by Adrian Wojnarowski on the Kevin Pritchard situation

    As executives of Vulcan Inc. discussed the pros and cons of firing Portland Trail Blazers general manager Kevin Pritchard last summer, the discussion found its way to this conclusion: Pritchard had proven to be a solid senior-level scout, but largely incapable of running the organization.

    Vulcan, the Blazers’ parent company, had watched Pritchard embark upon several selfish and destructive bents, and strong sentiment existed to fire him. Owner Paul Allen and the Vulcan executives no longer trusted him to put the franchise before his own ambitions. The list of transgressions that troubled Vulcan always came back to similar themes: Pritchard’s thirst for public adulation, money and power

    The article continues

    Allen and Vulcan ultimately decided to strip some power and autonomy from Pritchard, but decided to keep trotting him out to the things he most loved: news conferences and public appearances.

    “They left him the public face, but essentially he was neutered,” a league source with direct knowledge of the talks said.

    Privately, Vulcan executives wish they had gone further and fired him, sources say. That now appears to be a matter of time, especially with the way Pritchard’s agent, Warren LeGarie, has publicly gone ballistic on the Blazers organization.

    Some more on the Penn contract extension

    Once Penn leveraged Minnesota for an offer to take back to Portland, league sources say the three of them – LeGarie, Pritchard and Penn – exaggerated the package and control offered Penn as GM. Still, Portland gave Penn a raise and a new contract. For a brief time, this thrilled Pritchard. He believed this was a way to backdoor into a new deal for himself. If Vulcan had taken care of his assistant, they would feel compelled to take care of him.

    Only, Vulcan told him to get lost.

  3. wow, i didnt know there was so much backroom drama in Blazer-land. Especially considering how bright the future looks for that team

  4. 1. At this point in time, Kevin Pritchard’s GM job looks like it’s very much in jeopardy.

    2. Back-room drama of this sort is a significant part of day-to-day existence in every major organization across the commercial spectrum in life.

    It is going to be very interesting to see if Pritchard will survive this type of internal coup and, if not, where he will go next to find suitable employment in the “very small/insular world” that encompasses the largely in-bred NBA.

  5. Another update — the Oregonian reports on a recent media address by Pritchard + Miller on Pritchard’s uncertain future with the Blazers

    Trail Blazers general manager Kevin Pritchard and president Larry Miller addressed the media Monday afternoon in the wake of rumor and speculation surrounding the sudden firing of Tom Penn and the uncertain future of Pritchard.

    Pritchard said several times during a nearly-15 minute interview that he wants to be the Blazers’ general manager long-term. But when asked if he thought he would be here next year, Pritchard could not say with certainty.

    “I don’t know that,” Pritchard said. “I’m going to give it everything I have every day. I want to be here. I really do. I’ve enjoyed working with everybody here.”

    The article continues

    Pritchard said his relationship with owner Paul Allen has not been strained and that he would not “look over his shoulder,” as he operated the team.

    Miller refused to address Pritchard’s future beyond this season and would not give Pritchard a vote of confidence. Miller said, like everyone else in the organization, Pritchard would be evaluated after the season.

    That Pritchard’s job status is being debated is stunning considering his role in transforming the Blazers from a hapless, troublemaking group known nationally as the “Jail Blazers” into a young playoff contender on the rise.

    Other Links

    (1) Kevin Pritchard transcript — link

    Larry is a great president. I think it’s been, in some articles, that we’re not connected. That’s not right. I don’t like that. I don’t like when I see things that aren’t correct. We have a wonderful organization. We’re a family. Do we have bumps in the road? Absolutely. And we don’t always agree on everything. I’ve told you guys this. And I think what makes a great organization isn’t that you disagree; it’s how you come together after you disagree. And we’re in this together.

    Kevin Pritchard also claimed that he has never asked for a contract extension + that Paul Allen has never criticized the Greg Oden draft pick and that everyone was on board with that pick.

    (2) Larry Miller transcript — link

    “Kevin and I have had a great relationship since I’ve been here and we continue to. And to echo what he said, I think this is great organization that wouldn’t be where it is without us all working together. I think that from a basketball organization perspective, we’ve got as good, if not better, relationship between basketball and the rest of the organization than any team in the league. So I believe that and Kevin and I have had a really good relationship, a great relationship, since I’ve been here. And it continues to be that way.”

    Miller also reiterated that Pritchard’s situation and contract extension would not be evaluated until the end of the season and that is the same procedure as with every other member of the team. Oh, and he said that Pritchard was involved in the discussions to fire Tom Penn. That it wasn’t done around him. Pritchard didn’t agree with certain things in those discussions but he was involved in them.

    (3) Video Clips of Larry Miller + Kevin Pritchard

    (4) Jason Quick on the situation — link

    Outside of that, it’s a bunch of no-name sources making wild accusations that Pritchard is power-hungry and trying to leverage owner Paul Allen into a new contract. That Pritchard and coach Nate McMillan don’t get along. That Penn had a shouting match with team president Larry Miller before being fired. And remarkably enough, that Penn had the gall to call Allen a “liar” to his face.

    And about the only thing everyone in the Blazers offices can agree on is that none of the stories has been accurate.

    (5) Canzano asks where is Paul Allen throughout all this mess?

    Adrian Wojnarowski

    I think that some of his articles in the past, particularly ones related to off-court issues, have been prone to hyperbole. So while I think the information he provides here is worth knowing and is largely accurate … I wouldn’t read too much into the severity of the situation.

    Obviously, this Kevin Pritchard situation is more uncertain than I initially hoped but I still expect him to stay with the Blazers. I wouldn’t be worried about it if I were a Blazers fan. I believe Pritchard + ownership/management will want to hold onto how successful they’ve been together and how successful they can be in the future. Ergo, I expect this nonsense to come to a resolution that allows them to stay in their current roles.

    I think Wojnarowski’s comments + Pritchard’s agent’s comments have overblown the situation.

  6. Paul Allen finally talked to the media — here is his statement to the press

    The Trail Blazers made a change in the vice president of basketball operations position, and that’s all. Decisions like this are made at the top levels of Blazer management, and are not made unless we have good reason, have worked through the issues involved, and feel we should make an immediate change.

    We are not going to make any more long-term decisions today. When the season ends we will evaluate how best to move the Trail Blazers forward. That’s no different than the way we have operated for the past 21 seasons.

    I support everyone who works for me, including Kevin Pritchard, and that’s why he’s our general manager. We all have the same goal — to bring another NBA Championship to the great fans of Portland.

    Same message we’ve heard from Larry Miller.

  7. A new update on the Kevin Pritchard situation — Yahoo Sports reports

    The Portland Trail Blazers have empowered a private headhunting firm to research and reach out to potential general manager candidates, league sources told Yahoo! Sports.

    The use of the firm is further evidence embattled GM Kevin Pritchard has fallen out of favor with ownership and likely will be replaced before next season.

    Shocking that things have reached this point … still, gotta believe Portland will figure things out and right the ship with the guys they got but this has gone far further than I ever imagined.

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