For those of you who would like to quickly get up to speed on what type of candidate Tom Penn is, I suggest that you start and end with Ben Golliver's interview with the man himself at the excellent Blazer's Edge. You can throw in Ben's interview with Kevin Pritchard for good measure.
Ben does a fantastic job allowing both Penn and Pritchard to give solid answers that actually tell you a lot about how these two men do their jobs. It's good stuff. I contacted Ben to see what he, as a very informed fan, had to say about Penn. Here is is take:
Tom Penn is the prototype "smartest guy in the room." The force of his intellect is palpable: shaking his hand or listening to him speak is more like an encounter with a nationally-recognized research scientist rather than a famous basketball figure.
He has a well-earned reputation as a salary cap manager; his maneuvers have been publicly credited by the organization on numerous occasions, most notably the Rudy Fernandez case.
The Blazers have a collaborative approach to decision-making (Pritchard, Penn and the scouts combine to form the brain trust with Allen and Miller involved as well). Penn is obviously the go-to person on salary cap management. On probably 5 occasions, I've heard Kevin Pritchard deflect salary cap questions to Penn.
Penn's understanding of the salary cap far exceeds his ability to explain his understanding of the salary cap, so turning to him as a writer for information about what the team might do can be tricky. You feel like you need to cram for hours for a two minute conversation with him because it's simply not in his nature to "dumb things down."
His work ethic is not a matter of debate. I've run into him at the Blazers practice facility late at night on multiple occasions. This is a man that loves doing homework. He lives his job. He has the mental cataloged of players and prospects that is necessary to succeed as a GM.
The knock that has followed Penn is that he doesn't come from a basketball background (obviously there's a premium in the NBA for GMs to be former players, etc.). Penn bristled when I (probably foolishly) brought this up with him last fall. It's clear he doesn't believe it's a fair criticism. He points to his time in Memphis with Jerry West and his time in Portland as providing more than sufficient experience. Indeed, he is very hands-on when it comes to regularly sitting courtside at practices, nearly every home game, traveling on road trips, participating in all aspects of player evaluation (workouts, training camp, etc.). It has been my impression this season that he is proactively addressing this perceived weakness in his resume.
Penn is not seen a natural communicator (like, say, Kevin Pritchard) and it's been said in the past that he prefers to lurk in the background. Again, I think he's worked to address that directly this season. He seemed to make a more concerted, constant effort to network with opposing team executives prior to each game and he seemed much more "in his element" doing so than I remember in the previous season. He was quotable all season long, on everything fro trade exceptions to the interest rates on the money offered by the league's financing programs. He has a sharp, sometimes forced, sense of humor that he doesn't often reveal publicly.
To boil it down... He's probably not the kind of guy most fans would want to have a beer with; he is the kind of guy you would want negotiating your next contract or defending you against false criminal charges.
If you make eye contact with him, it's very, very, very unlikely that he will break the gaze or blink first. That's Tom Penn.
Off the court, Penn is a dedicated donor to St. Jude's hospital -- I believe he serves on its national board. He absolutely walks the walk when it comes to supporting this cause, holding fund raisers, visiting hospitals on road trips with players, etc.
The question in my mind is whether Minnesota has enough money to offer him. He's in a very good situation in Portland. But he's also very, very, very ambitious and would seem like a likely candidate to run his own team, especially one that is in need of a turnaround that could be facilitated by his salary cap knowledge.
Its a question of "when" not "if" Tom Penn becomes an NBA GM.
If I were you, I would start publicly lobbying hard for him immediately.
If Tom Penn left, it would be a sad day for Portland. He has been very friendly and supportive of our work. I would miss him considerably. So would the Blazers.
Mui bien. Muchas gracias Ben.
This kind of puts the whole Bill Simmons thing in a new light, doesn't it? Penn is exactly the type of candidate the Wolves need to be interviewing. Young, bright, trained in the dark arts of the CBA, as well as being someone who has done some time in a winning organization. He is the anti-Kahn...a Captain Kirk...never mind. I think I've seen one too many Star Trek commercials.
Until later. Thanks again to Ben from Blazer's Edge.