You may not know the name Tom Penn, but front office people throughout the league do — He’s a guy in line for a GM job somewhere. He is Portland’s Vice President of Basketball Operations and a key part of their staff with general manager Kevin Pritchard that has rebuilt Portland into an up-and-comer.
Make that was. Penn was fired late Tuesday.
Officially, team president Larry Miller said it was about the dreaded “philosophical differences” in a statement.
“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.”
Penn had been at the forefront of those considered for the Minnesota general managers job last spring, but he got a promotion and stayed in Portland (reports vary on whether or not he was offered that job). When Jason Quick from the Oregonian talked to Penn he did not go into any details, other than to say he was “surprised” and “disappointed.”
Penn was regarded as a top salary cap guy — he helped write the last Collective Bargaining Agreement in 2005. He had worked in both the Memphis and Portland front office.
What really happened is all speculation. But that can be fun, so here’s some guesses.
First, he reportedly ticked off Blazers owner Paul Allen two years ago in the draft war room when they got Greg Oden. Allen is a very involved owner, you don’t get on his bad side. Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo added on Twitter.
League sources have been describing unrest in front office for months, centered on Pritchard’s inability to get new contract after Penn did.
Whatever the reason, expect this to be the first domino of several to fall in front office moves in the coming months.
Richard Jefferson announced his retirement after the Cavaliers won the 2016 championship, changed his mind, re-signed with Cleveland then played another season there. He played big playoff minutes for the Cavs both years.
But they traded him to the Hawks (who waived him, allowing him to sign with the Nuggets) in a rather abrupt end to his Cleveland tenure.
His exit could have been far more strained.
Dave McMenamin of ESPN:
Then he was nearly traded the summer after the championship because he revealed what the Cavs’ rings looked like on his Snapchat account before the team was ready to release them to the public. Then-GM David Griffin was so ticked that he was ready to ship him out of town, sources told ESPN, before eventually calming down and accepting Jefferson’s apology.
Talk about some petty nonsense. And Griffin was known for soothing tension!
Thankfully for Jefferson – at least if he wanted to stay in Cleveland – he revealed the ring design in September. As a newly signed player, he couldn’t be traded until Dec. 15. That gave Griffin time to cool down.
Carmelo Anthony wanted to be traded to the Houston Rockets. Badly. (Whether that was good for Houston is a different discussion.) His time in New York was over by mutual consent, but now was time to move on, however, thanks to a no-trade clause Phil Jackson gave him, Anthony had leverage. And he wanted to be a Rocket with James Harden and Chris Paul.
It looked at one point like a deal would get done between New York and Houston, then it fell apart. So what happened?
Phil Jackson was booted, that’s what happened, Anthony told Marc Stein the New York Times.
The delay to find a workable trade, in Anthony’s view, stemmed from the fact that Jackson was willing “to trade me for a bag of chips,” while Scott Perry, who became the Knicks’ new general manager after Jackson’s departure, took a harder line in trade talks with Houston and Cleveland that eventually fizzled.
“They went from asking for peanuts to asking for steak,” Anthony said with a laugh.
‘Melo can laugh, he landed in a good spot with Oklahoma City. He’s on a potential contender.
As for his feelings on Jackson and leaving the organization? Still some hard feelings there.
“There was no support from the organization,” he said. “When you feel like you’re on your own and then on top of that you feel like you’re being pushed out …”
Kobe Bryant has been there. He tore his Achilles at an age most players would have said: “that’s it, I’m out.” Not Kobe. He fought through it, came back, and was able to leave the game on his terms — and with a 60-point night.
So when Kobe sends an Instagram recovery message to Gordon Hayward, he knows of what he speaks.
The message was vintage Kobe, all about the drive and steps to recovery. Focus on the next thing, don’t let any obstacles stop you.
Let’s just hope Hayward can take this to heart and make a full recovery.
The buzz of the NBA’s opening night was killed just a 5:15 into the first game when Gordon Hayward went down with what could be a season-ending ankle and leg injury.
What’s next for Boston now? Kurt Helin and Dan Feldman of NBC Sports get into that with this latest PBT Podcast.
They also discuss the opening night game between the Celtics and Cavaliers and what we can take away from it, same with the Houston Rockets upset of the Golden State Warriors. The pair also gets into the Nikola Mirotic/Bobby Portis incident in Chicago (this was recorded just before the Portis suspension came down), the LaMarcus Aldridge extension with the Spurs, and if Joel Embiid should be ticked about being on a minutes limit to start the season.
As always, you can check out the podcast below, or listen and subscribe via iTunes (just click the button under the podcast), subscribe via the fantastic Stitcher app, check us out on Google play, or check out the NBC Sports Podcast homepage and archive at Art19.