Penn promoted in Blazers' front office

Updated: May 18, 2009, 1:59 PM ET
ESPN.com

Make that three candidates to withdraw from the Minnesota Timberwolves' search for a new head of basketball operations.

Portland Trail Blazers assistant general manager Tom Penn on Monday took his name out of the running for the position after receiving a promotion from the Blazers.

Penn's pullout, on the eve of the NBA draft lottery, follows the withdrawals of initial top candidate Dennis Lindsey of the San Antonio Spurs and former Miami Heat general manager Randy Pfund.

"It was a real tough call on his part," Warren LeGarie, Penn's agent, told ESPN The Magazine's Ric Bucher, "but he's found a home in Portland and a niche within the organization where he thought there was more to contribute to an eventual championship. The friendships and relationships there were a siren call to return."

The offer of a new contract and a still-to-be-specified elevated position -- possibly vice president of basketball operations -- also factored into Penn's decision to stay with the Blazers, Bucher reports.

ESPN.com's Marc Stein reported Friday that Penn had been offered the Wolves' job, with sources close to the process saying that the expectation in Portland was that Penn would accept.

ESPN.com also reported Friday that signals are growing stronger that Kevin McHale, Minnesota's longtime head of basketball operations before moving to the bench in December, will retain the right to decide whether he stays on as the Wolves' coach no matter whom Minnesota hires to run its front office.

Wolves owner Glen Taylor -- after initially saying that the new general manager would make the final call on Minnesota's coach -- has mandated that his next head of basketball operations make it McHale's choice to keep coaching or leave the organization, according to NBA front-office sources.

Yet it remains to be seen if McHale and Taylor can agree on contract terms and whether McHale will feel comfortable with his front-office replacement, after it appeared that Penn was bound for Minnesota.

McHale has not spoken publicly since the end of the regular season, but it's believed he wants no less than a two-year deal to continue coaching. Sources close to the situation say Taylor prefers to commit to McHale only for next season and then re-evaluate.

Penn's apparent willingness to keep McHale as coach and team with Wolves assistant general manager Fred Hoiberg on personnel matters -- combined with Penn's solid reputation after working for Jerry West in Memphis and helping the Trail Blazers rise to prominence in the Western Conference -- had established him as the heavy favorite to become Minnesota's lead decision-maker on personnel matters entering the weekend.

San Antonio's Lindsey withdrew from consideration on May 1. The only other known external candidate besides Penn, Lindsey and Pfund is former Indiana Pacers executive David Kahn, who worked under Donnie Walsh for nine years with the Pacers and is a favorite of NBA commissioner David Stern. Hoiberg and current Timberwolves general manager Jim Stack also remain candidates for the top spot, Bucher reports.

Pfund informed the Wolves on Friday that he was withdrawing from the process, saying later that he had "a couple other things I want to explore at this point."

It's believed that both Lindsey and Pfund wanted the freedom to make sweeping changes to the organization if they wished -- including the right to dismiss McHale and hire their own coach -- with Taylor reluctant to give it.

With no McHale successor in place, Minnesota is sending rookie forward Kevin Love to New Jersey to represent the club during Tuesday's draft lottery, when the Wolves will learn the placement of the highest of their three first-round picks in the June 25 draft, along with Nos. 18 and 28.

With one of the youngest teams in the league, one of the first chores for the new GM is deciding whether to shop one or more of those picks in an attempt to inject some veteran savvy into the roster.

Love and fellow franchise cornerstone Al Jefferson have lobbied the Wolves to keep McHale on the bench. The Wolves went 20-43 after McHale replaced Randy Wittman in December, but they posted a 10-4 record in January before losing Jefferson to a season-ending knee injury on Feb. 8.

"It's a little weird, not knowing who we turn to next year to make the decisions," Love said Friday on a conference call with Minneapolis-based reporters to discuss his participation on the lottery dais.

As for the prospect of McHale's return, Love said: "I think the consensus is everybody likes him and would love to play for him again."

Asked if he had any feel for how McHale was leaning, Love said: "I'm not really sure. Seems to me he's still up in the air on it, [it's] still a big question mark. I hope he comes back. If there's anything I can say or Big Al can say ... I think the consensus is everybody likes him and would love to play for him again."

Ric Bucher is a senior NBA writer for ESPN The Magazine. Marc Stein is ESPN.com's senior NBA writer.

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