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Crossroads 2017: Milwaukee’s Surprise GM Search

After 24 hours, the Milwaukee Bucks decided to “open up” their search for a new GM. Why?

Milwaukee Bucks Introduce Jason Kidd Photo by Mike McGinnis/Getty Images

Today, Marc Stein reported that the Bucks have decided to expand their search for a new general manager, and that the process will be managed by long-time NBA fixture and current Bucks consultant Rod Thorn.

On Tuesday, the Milwaukee Bucks bid general manager John Hammond farewell, as he accepted the GM role in Orlando with former associate Jeff Weltman, who worked with Hammond in Milwaukee previously. We had our thoughts about the move, and everybody at Brew Hoop certainly wishes John Hammond well.

However, the matter of Hammond’s replacement was conspicuously vague in the team’s official statement. While seemingly innocuous on its own, the presumed ascension of Assistant General Manager Justin Zanik was a widely-believed “secret” across the NBA since he arrived in Milwaukee, and this detail was included in the early reports of Hammond’s departure.

Let’s look at the timeline. First, it was reported by Marc Stein at 12:56pm:

Then it was confirmed by Adrian Wojnarowski at 1:54pm:

The Orlando Magic issued their statement at 2:19pm:

And the Milwaukee Bucks issued a statement as well, at 3:36pm:

Some fans were troubled about the lack of information about the Bucks’ next steps, but thought nothing of it. But then today, a new report comes out, again from Marc Stein. In his article, Stein clarifies the situation surrounding the Bucks’ assumed succession plan:

[Justin] Zanik has been erroneously described in some corners as the Bucks GM-in-waiting, but sources insist he was never promised the position by the Bucks upon joining them from the Utah Jazz and will have to convince team officials he is the best choice to lead the franchise into the future.

(If you want to listen to some spicy-hot takes, make sure to listen to Eric Nehm and Frank Madden break it all down on today’s Locked On Bucks.)

In a word, I find this news about the Bucks’ surprise GM search to be troubling. Nearly one year ago, Zanik was hired to be the de facto GM-in-waiting, as reported by Adrian Wojnarowski. Now, Stein corrects the record about Zanik’s place in line, and the Bucks are actually casting a broad net to decide upon a replacement. And the timing, as it turns out, could not be worse.

The Crossroads 2017 series is predicated on one core assumption: the summer of 2017, from June to September of this year, are incredibly important opportunities for the Bucks to elevate their chances at contention. It is no longer about putting themselves in position to be successful; it is now about maneuvering into a position to win consistently. That being said, the team needs to get everything right in the short term.

In that regard, there is some justification for opening up the job for all applicants. Knowing how pivotal this summer is, perhaps Wes Edens, Marc Lasry, Jamie Dinan, and the rest of the ownership group want to make absolutely sure about who they’re putting in the driver’s seat. I can understand wanting to make an informed decision about a critical role in the front office, I can even agree with it!

But the timing is horrible. If Zanik wasn’t brought aboard because he could take over for Hammond, then why was he brought aboard in the first place? Is there something specific, either from his time in Utah or here in Milwaukee, that made the owners reconsider? And if Zanik was the presumed successor, the timeline is stretching out too far. Milk left out on the counter overnight starts to go bad, but this bottle has been sitting next to the sink for over a week! Needless to say, something doesn’t smell right here.

The Bucks were made aware of Hammond interviewing with Orlando a while ago. And while Hammond didn’t get the gig (Jeff Weltman took that job), I am skeptical that there weren’t enough internal discussions about Hammond’s interest in a lateral move with the Magic. If Zanik isn’t the guy, why not get that resolved before the Hammond move, in order to move along the process quickly?

In their effort to be responsible, it looks like the Bucks are being irresponsible. Fact: it has been revealed that the team is somehow not sold on Zanik as GM. In deciding against the internal promotion, Bucks ownership has delivered fans a staggering dose of self-imposed organizational paralysis upon the team a month before the NBA Draft. If you were looking for something on-par with replacing your GM right before the trade deadline, this is it.

Furthermore, hiring Zanik in 2016 and giving him the “thanks, but no thanks” treatment in 2017 could ruin the team’s credibility across the NBA. Remember, this is the same ownership group that hired a head coach before the previous head coach even knew he was out of a job. How will this decision impact the Bucks’ image within league circles? The previous GM left willingly, the assistant brought in to (presumably) fill that guy’s shoes has to go through the whole interview process, and Jason Kidd is still a controversial figure influencing the team’s decisions. Is the Bucks’ situation really as rosy as it appears?

At best, this is a communications gaffe on the part of the Bucks as a franchise. At worst, the team got caught asleep at the wheel with no backup plan to speak of. At no point did the Bucks ever correct the record about Zanik’s “on deck” status for the GM position, which serves as a tacit endorsement of the notion for fans. Now that fans’ expectations have been completely upended, who knows what to expect?

John Hammond is gone, and we don’t know how many of his (former) front office staff will stay or go. There will be a new general manager at some point, and they may or may not come from within the organization. What does that say about the Bucks’ overarching strategy for continuing to build the franchise? With less than 30 days before the draft, how confident can fans be about the team’s selections? This is a big deal!

For the Bucks’ current players, how will they react to the fundamental shift happening in the front office? Not only is a pillar of the team who oversaw the acquisition of every player now gone, but there is no telling who will be installed in that position, or what that means for crucial contract decisions coming up very soon. Does this change Greg Monroe ‘s decision about opting out? How will this affect Tony Snell ‘s restricted free agency? And looming over everything is Jabari Parker and his possible rookie extension, and none of them have a clue about who they’re even going to be working with on these topics!

The Bucks’ future hasn’t tanked today, not because of an organizational decision. But if they’re not absolutely, 100%, beyond the shadow of a doubt sure that this is a necessary step for the franchise, the team may have inadvertently lowered their ceiling.

[UPDATE: if the previous surprises weren’t enough for you, here’s another #WojBomb for you:]

[We will continue to monitor this story as it develops.]