Penn fired without cause, still being paid, sources say

Tom Penn, former Portland Trail Blazers vice president of basketball operations, received a formal notice of termination this week stating that he was fired without cause, sources told The Columbian on Friday. In addition, Penn is still being paid by the organization.

The reported lack of cause for Penn’s firing appears to contradict a statement made Thursday by Blazers owner Paul Allen, who said that Penn was fired with “good reason” and that the organization felt it “should make an immediate change.”

An attempt Friday to reach Allen for further comment was unsuccessful.

A Blazers spokesperson said Friday, “We have said all that we are going to say regarding Tom Penn.”

Penn was unexpectedly relieved of his position last Tuesday. Team president Larry Miller originally cited “philosophical differences” as the main reason for Penn’s firing.

During the aftermath, though, a series of questions have been raised about the timing of and circumstances surrounding the unexpected decision to discharge Penn, who played a key role in the team’s revitalization in recent years.

Asked last Thursday if Penn was given a reason why he was fired, Miller said he could not go into specific details. He added, though, that a senior-management group consisting of people from Portland and Seattle made the decision, and that the firing was “specific to Tom Penn.”

Miller’s comments momentarily quieted rumblings that Penn’s firing was tied to Blazers general manager Kevin Pritchard’s future with the organization.

Prior to Penn being relieved of his duties, there had been no reports that Pritchard’s job was in jeopardy. His contract with the Blazers runs through 2010-11 and is guaranteed, and there is an option for the 2011-12 season.

But after a series of regional and national articles highlighted reported tension between Pritchard and the organization, the Blazers organized an informal press conference Monday afternoon.

During an awkward 20-minute interview session, Miller and Pritchard spoke of their devotion to the organization. But an emotional Pritchard was guarded and uneasy. Meanwhile, Miller would not commit to giving Pritchard a contract extension, stating that the team always waits until the end of the season to evaluate its personnel — an assertion Allen repeated in his media statement released Thursday.

Miller said Monday that the organization could have waited until the 2009-10 season was complete to fire Penn, but added that “this was the time to do it.”

“It wasn’t about anything else related to Kevin or anything else,” Miller said. “It was philosophical differences, and it was best that we part ways. And our feeling was, let’s do that and move on. But it became something other than that.”

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