The general manager who took a chance on an unknown Greek player named Giannis Antetokounmpo in 2013 is leaving the Bucks’ front office, a little less than a month before this year’s NBA Draft, to take the same job with another organization.
John Hammond will join the Orlando Magic, the team announced on Tuesday. He’ll work with former Raptors executive Jeff Weltman, who was just hired as the Orlando president of basketball operations, a job for which Hammond had recently interviewed. According to The Vertical's Adrian Wojnarowski, Hammond signed a five-year contract with the Magic.
"We are very excited to join Jeff and be a part of the team in Orlando," Hammond said in a statement. "The Magic are a first-class organization all the way around and we look forward to this tremendous opportunity. I want to thank the ownership in Milwaukee – Wes Edens, Marc Lasry and Jamie Dinan – for their support, and I certainly wish them well."
Hammond’s contract with the Bucks was through the 2017-18 season, but the team last year hired Justin Zanik as assistant GM and eventual – though perhaps sooner-than-expected – successor to Hammond.
"John Hammond has been an incredible asset to the Bucks organization these last nine years and a true professional in every sense of the word," Bucks ownership said in a statement. "His keen eye for talent and relentless drive to build one of the finest teams in the league has helped the Bucks become a championship-caliber organization on and off the court. We wish John and his family nothing but the best in Orlando.
"We remain very excited about the prospects of our team and anticipate further announcements about the front office staff to be made in the near future."
Presumably, that announcement will be to officially name Zanik as Milwaukee’s general manager. Zanik was hired last June after spending three years as assistant GM of the Utah Jazz; before that, he was a player agent. He's considered to be more analytically and economically inclined than the 62-year-old Hammond, who nevertheless built a reputation for finding draft diamonds in the rough and clearly still wants an active front-office role.
Besides Antetokounmpo – who started in the All-Star Game and was named to the All-NBA Second Team this season – Hammond last year picked Thon Maker, a raw center who looks like he could become an impact player, and in the second round Malcolm Brogdon, who was a major contributor and a Rookie of the Year candidate. He also was responsible for drafting Jabari Parker, acquiring Khris Middleton via trade from the Pistons and signing Greg Monroe – who had offers from bigger-market teams – in free agency, crafting the Bucks’ young, potential-filled core.
Hammond took over as general manager in 2008, replacing Larry Harris, and won the league's Executive of the Year Award after the 2009-10 season. But the next few seasons were plagued by ill-advised trades and signings, and the Bucks struggled to try and contend merely for a low playoff seed.
After tanking to a 15-67 record in 2013-14, Hammond seemed to flourish as a decision-maker while rebuilding. He made Milwaukee into a contender that earned the Eastern Conference’s No. 6 playoff seed and took Toronto to six games in the first round, after the season speaking highly of the franchise’s bright future.
The Magic, who went 29-53 last year, have pick Nos. 6, 25, 33 and 35 in the June 22 NBA Draft. Orlando is in a position similar to that of the Bucks a few years ago, and it’s probably hoping Hammond can help turnaround the organization like he did in Milwaukee.
"John brings tremendous experience and is a great talent evaluator," Weltman said in a statement. "He has experience in everything from day-to-day operations to player development. He built a great team in Milwaukee, and won a championship while in Detroit. We are very fortunate to have him as part of the Magic family."
During Hammond’s nine-year tenure in Milwaukee, the Bucks went 315-407 (.436 winning percentage) and made the playoffs four times.
Born in Milwaukee but a product of Shorewood High School (go ‘Hounds!) and Northwestern University (go ‘Cats!), Jimmy never knew the schoolboy bliss of cheering for a winning football, basketball or baseball team. So he ditched being a fan in order to cover sports professionally - occasionally objectively, always passionately. He's lived in Chicago, New York and Dallas, but now resides again in his beloved Brew City and is an ardent attacker of the notorious Milwaukee Inferiority Complex.
After interning at print publications like Birds and Blooms (official motto: "America's #1 backyard birding and gardening magazine!"), Sports Illustrated (unofficial motto: "Subscribe and save up to 90% off the cover price!") and The Dallas Morning News (a newspaper!), Jimmy worked for web outlets like CBSSports.com, where he was a Packers beat reporter, and FOX Sports Wisconsin, where he managed digital content. He's a proponent and frequent user of em dashes, parenthetical asides, descriptive appositives and, really, anything that makes his sentences longer and more needlessly complex.
Jimmy appreciates references to late '90s Brewers and Bucks players and is the curator of the unofficial John Jaha Hall of Fame. He also enjoys running, biking and soccer, but isn't too annoying about them. He writes about sports - both mainstream and unconventional - and non-sports, including history, music, food, art and even golf (just kidding!), and welcomes reader suggestions for off-the-beaten-path story ideas.