Report: Bucks to Hire Jazz Assistant GM as “GM-in-Waiting”

While some teams are still focused on this season, the Milwaukee Bucks have their eyes on the future. FORWARD THINKING, these Bucks.

Just before Saturday night’s tremendous Golden State/Oklahoma City tipoff (which, timing-wise, is less than ideal for people like me who just want to watch some dang good basketball), Yahoo Sports’ Adrian Wojnarowski dropped a report casting slightly more light on the state of the Bucks’ front office going forward:

The Milwaukee Bucks are hiring Utah Jazz executive Justin Zanik as the franchise’s general manager-in-waiting, league sources told The Vertical.

Zanik, an assistant general manager with Utah, will join the Bucks with a similar job title – and an agreement that he will eventually become the successor to Milwaukee GM John Hammond, sources said.

Zanik, who has spent the last several years in an assistant GM role with the Jazz, also has significant experience as a player agent and vice president of ASM Sports and is regarded as a CBA expert with extensive experience in international player management. He also has a degree in economics from Northwestern, and according to LinkedIn his top skills are “Sponsorship”, “Negotiation”, and “Sports Management”. So that seems to bode well for the Bucks if he is, indeed, their pick for GM of the future.

This report builds on Charles Gardner’s report in the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel from May 15 that the team had begun its search for a new assistant GM, a position which had been vacant since parting ways with David Morway in the 2014-15 offseason.

There’s a lot to unpack here; another key (if understated) component of Wojnarowski’s report is that the team is also in the process of negotiating a contract extension with head coach Jason Kidd, a move that’s simultaneously unsurprising and a little bit surprising given reports of Kidd’s overall career goals in recent months. That said, if he’s still focused on head coaching duties, the team could certainly do worse than to extend a coach that’s popular with his players and seems to place an emphasis on player development.

It seems as though ownership is nearly completing the process of assembling its own hand-picked front office after purchasing the team in the waning days of the 2013-14 season – if things proceed as reported, Hammond will most likely spend the last season of his Bucks career grooming his replacement and leaving when his contract expires at in 2017. Zanik would then ascend to the GM role, where he would presumably work with Kidd on player transactions and strategic decision-making. Given his background, it’s easy to imagine a partnership in which Kidd provides input on player evaluation and team building while Zanik acts as the “money man” and keeps the team’s cap sheet looking clean.

Of course, the Bucks appear to be trying to get out in front of Woj’s report.

It’s highly unlikely the Bucks will officially announce this hiring as the hiring of a GM in waiting, so we’ll get to keep doing this whole dance around who is doing what in the front office for another year or at least until Hammond is either extended or gone.

Now, while I don’t doubt that Zanik is a wise choice and can be a fine GM when it’s time for him to take over, it certainly puts the current GM in a tough spot. Hiring a “GM-in-waiting” basically positions Hammond as a lame-duck GM in his final year, and that’s a no-win scenario for him. It’s curious that Hammond was part of the search committee if this really is his replacement. Judging from him remaining with the team and not storming out the front door, he generally appears on board with this whole scenario. Sometimes it’s tough to tell what his motivations are if all the rumors and innuendo are true.

Asking someone to basically groom their replacement is difficult enough; now let’s imagine that process while actively trying to improve an NBA team. Plus, even if he does a good job, it’s not like Hammond can earn himself an extension. It has certainly seemed like Hammond’s power has been diminished ever since the sale of the team, and while it’s certainly reasonable that the owners would prefer to select their own front office, what’s the point of keeping him around after this news? How long does it take to “groom” someone who’s been in and/or working with NBA front offices for nearly two decades?

At any rate, things continue to be a-changing in and around the Bucks in a pivotal offseason for the team, and they should only get wilder with the draft and free agency approaching. Stay tuned, y’all.

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1 Comment

  1. Lee Harrington

    I’ve always been a big admirer of John Hammond. Sorry to see him go. Best of luck John and THANKS for taking a chance on Gianni’s