By Jimmy Carlton Sportswriter Published Jun 09, 2016 at 1:06 PM

The Bucks on Thursday made official the media reports from a couple weeks ago, naming Justin Zanik the team’s assistant general manager.

It’s believed the 41-year-old was hired with the understanding that he would be the eventual successor to current Milwaukee general manager John Hammond.

"We are thrilled to welcome Justin Zanik to our basketball operations department," Hammond said in a statement. "He is a proven executive who brings a diverse background and wealth of basketball knowledge to the Bucks family. We look forward to his contributions to our organization."

Zanik spent the past three seasons as the assistant GM of the Utah Jazz, where his duties included facilitating contract negotiations, managing the salary cap and overseeing international scouting. He also handled personnel decisions for the club’s D-League affiliate. When Zanik joined the franchise prior to the start of the 2013-14 season, the Jazz were beginning a rebuild that saw them steadily improve their record from 25-57 that year – when they were accused of tanking – to 38-44 in 2014-15 to 40-42 last season, just missing the playoffs.

As small-market teams with rosters constructed largely via a draft-and-develop philosophy, Milwaukee and Utah share similar organizational traits and operational tactics. With Zanik the most influential voice on overseas prospects in their front office the past few years, the Jazz selected promising Australian guard Dante Exum with the fifth pick in 2014, as well as two other international players in the second round last season. Since Zanik’s hiring in August of 2013, Utah has also developed Rudy Gobert, a first-round pick two months earlier from France, into one of the league’s top centers.

Before joining the Jazz, Zanik was the vice president of ASM Sports, where some of his most integral work with the company was in contract and statistical analysis during preparation for free agency. A certified NBA player agent since 2003 and considered one of the smartest in the business, the 1998 economics graduate of Northwestern University was seen as a valuable asset for Utah in understanding and optimizing contracts and the cap.

After this season, the rapidly rising salary cap is projected to jump by $19 million to $89 million per team, and then up again for the 2017-18 season to about $108 million. Those huge increases will transform the league’s financial structure and require new, astute understandings of market efficiencies and opportunities. 

Prior to his experience at ASM, Zanik was vice president of basketball operations for Priority Sports & Entertainment from 1998 through 2002, where he handled European player contract negotiations and recruitment of future clients.

Following a .500 record and a playoff appearance in 2014-15, the Bucks had a disappointing season last year, finishing 33-49 and 12th in the 15-team Eastern Conference. They hold the No. 10 pick in the June 23rd NBA Draft, the first major personnel-related event in which Zanik will be involved, though he’s reportedly already been with the club for the past week.

Milwaukee has a pair of young franchise faces in 21-year-olds Giannis Antetokounmpo and Jabari Parker, both of whom took steps toward becoming stars last season. Last summer, the Bucks signed up-and-coming wing Khris Middleton to a five-year, $70 million contract that will look like even more of a bargain over the next few seasons.

Among their main priorities this offseason will be figuring out what to do with Greg Monroe, an offensively skilled but defensively burdensome big man who has two years and about $34 million left on his contract and doesn’t seem to fit well with the squad.

The Bucks also have five free agents, including restricted center Miles Plumlee. Their unrestricted free agents are Jerryd Bayless, Greivis Vasquez, O.J. Mayo and Steve Novak, the latter two of whom are coming off major injuries. Also recovering from a season-ending injury is point guard Michael Carter-Williams, whose performance has fluctuated and future role is uncertain after Antetokounmpo impressively took over playmaking responsibilities the final two months.

Head coach Jason Kidd, who received a public vote of confidence from co-owner Marc Lasry in April, has only one year left on his contract but likely will soon receive an extension. It's possible Kidd will also eventually take on an expanded role, such as director of player personnel. 

The Bucks are breaking ground on a new Downtown arena June 18 during their second annual block party event. Last month, they hired Nylon Calculus writer Seth Partnow as a consultant – a move that was applauded across the league – signaling an amplified commitment to analytics. Groundbreaking work outside on the new facility, groundbreaking ideas inside team headquarters, presumably, in a changing front office.

With additions like Partnow and Zanik, Milwaukee is clearly trying to think differently and embrace creative concepts. Hammond has been the general manager since 2008, earning the NBA Executive of the Year award in 2010, but if the Bucks want to advance beyond the first round of the postseason for the first time since 2001 – and ultimately accomplish Antetokounmpo’s lofty goal of winning a championship here – they appear to believe that the road to success runs through more dynamic and innovative basketball operations.

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, 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.