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Crossroads 2017: Food for Thought on Milwaukee’s GM Search

What in the world is going on with the search for a permanent general manager?

Credit to SLC Dunk, May 29th, 2016

Hiring the right person for the right job isn’t easy. But as time goes on, it appears that the Milwaukee Bucks insist on increasing the degree of difficulty by continually getting in their own way.

When John Hammond left the Bucks for the Orlando Magic, it was widely assumed that Justin Zanik, then-assistant/current-interim general manager, would step into the role. That assumption proved to be inaccurate, as the franchise chose to conduct a wide search for Hammond’s replacement. This search wasn’t widely expected and some fans received the news poorly, but ultimately it illustrated an organization that made a conscious decision to expand their candidate pool. That, by itself, is not a bad thing.

But, as our friend Eric Nehm pointed out at the time, the timing of this decision was unfortunate:

Still, as the NBA Playoffs drew the attention of most of the league, the Bucks’ search for a new general manager became an impromptu litmus test for the team’s ownership group. Some of us thought that they were being smart. Some of us thought that they were being dumb. And some of us thought that it was a mix of both, but without a complete view of the team’s inner workings, the fanbase was left to draw their own conclusions.

So the search, led by consultant Rod Thorn, proceeded. A preliminary list of names was reported, including Justin Zanik, followed by a number of expansions to that original list. Then the list shrank, and shrank further down to three finalists, still including Justin Zanik. Wes Wilcox was reportedly eliminated from consideration, leaving Zanik and Denver’s Arturas Karnisovas. And when Karnisovas received a promotion to stay with the Nuggets, the list was narrowed down to one name: Justin Zanik.

Humor me for a moment, and let’s play through this scene: late one night, a man walks into a restaurant and takes a seat at the bar. The kitchen closes in 10 minutes, but he looks over the menu carefully, and is greeted by a no-nonsense bartender. The man has some questions:

MAN: “I’m looking to get dinner; I’m torn between the steak, the chicken, and the fish. What do you think?”

BARTENDER: * pours a drink * “Well, you probably shouldn’t get the fish. It’s not all that fresh, and it somehow keeps saying dumb racist things.”

MAN: “ the fish good, though?”

BARTENDER: “Did you not...I just said it’s not fresh.”

MAN: “...what comes with the fish?”

BARTENDER: “Look, buddy, trust me. Don’t get the fish.”

MAN: “Alright, fine. So between the steak and the chicken. I’ve had the chicken. It’s good chicken...but I might want to try the steak?”

BARTENDER: “That’s your call, buddy. Kitchen closes in a few minutes, so you kind of need to make a decision.”

MAN: “The chicken is pretty good...but the steak looks good too...”

BARTENDER: “Hold on, let me check something...”

The bartender flags down a busboy, and they have a quick exchange.

BARTENDER: “It turns out that we’re out of the steak. I guess that makes it an easy dec-”

MAN: * interrupting * “But I really wanted the steak. I think...wait, what’s the story on the fish again?”


In case the scene wasn’t clear, the man represents the Bucks’ ownership triumvirate of Wes Edens, Jamie Dinan, and Marc Lasry. The bartender represents reality — the NBA Draft is on June 22nd, which is a week from today. The restaurant running out of steak represents the Nuggets’ promotion of Karnisovas, which leaves the restaurant-goer one viable option. You’d think he’d go with the chicken, wouldn’t he? Especially when the chicken had a hand in building the Utah Jazz into a major player in the Western Conference?

No, of course the man can’t go with the obvious choice. He has to continue to argue himself in circles between the obvious option, the option that is no longer actually available, and the option that he already ruled out (and shouldn’t have seriously considered in the first place).

...league sources say that the Bucks’ ownership group is still trying to come to a consensus to make an offer.

What in the world could the hold-up possibly be? From my view, the ongoing search for a lead decision-maker in the front office is riddled with indecision. If anything, they showed more decisiveness by hiring Rod Thorn to conduct the search (thus delaying the hiring decision) than they have with anything throughout this whole process!

Something fishy is going on, Bucks fans. If Justin Zanik was brought aboard to eventually replace John Hammond, great. It’s becoming more evident that this isn’t the case, which is also fine. But why make the person who spent a year auditioning for the GM job continue auditioning for the GM job...when all of your other (reported) candidates are no longer under consideration?

I originally proposed that this search could end up being a good thing for the team and for Zanik; after searching high and low, the team decided to stick with their guy, and he would step into the role with no shred of doubt about the owners’ confidence in him. At this point, those tables have been turned. There are literally no other options to choose from! Why wait to make the announcement?

Unless of course, there are other options to choose from, and the public isn’t aware of it. The team’s rumored interest in Cleveland GM David Griffin could be more than rumor. Then again...

No way how you slice it, the Bucks’ optics surrounding their hiring process appears to be a comedy of errors. More cynically, it could also be a symptom of simmering organizational chaos from the very top of the franchise, manifesting itself as public paralysis. Allow me to quote myself from May 24th:

In their effort to be responsible, it looks like the Bucks are being irresponsible.

It has been nearly three weeks, and nothing has changed. Maybe later today, something will have changed, but I can’t say I feel confident in how the past three weeks have been managed. I hope I’m wrong.