SALT LAKE CITY — In July of 2013, Utah Jazz front office executives Dennis Lindsey and Kevin O’Connor made the decision to start a rebuild of the team, which was signaled by not re-signing Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap and helping the rising Golden State Warriors add Andre Iguodala by acquiring the salaries of Brandon Rush and Andris Biedrins in exchange for draft picks.
A month later, Lindsey hired player agent Justin Zanik to be his assistant general manager. Zanik had never worked in an NBA organization before, but as the Jazz have evolved into a playoff contender, so has Zanik in becoming known as an up-and-coming executive.
On Friday, the latest step in the Jazz’s evolution and Zanik’s career, which included a stint with the Milwaukee Bucks before he returned to Utah in 2017, came as he was named general manager as part of a larger franchise leadership change that will see Lindsey become executive vice president of basketball operations.
So what exactly will this mean for the team moving forward as it continues its quest for an NBA championship?
Zanik met with media Saturday morning at Zions Bank Basketball Campus and stressed that rather than it being a big change, it is merely the continuation of an evolution. As NBA franchises have become bigger, more people are needed to run them, and the change is in line with what other franchises have done.
“It doesn’t change the work we have to do,” Zanik said when asked if his new role might give him more clout around the league. “If it helps in the landscape of it, great, but I don’t think it’s a fundamental thing in terms of a shift. Dennis and I are here, and we’re continuing to be here and we’re going to continue to do work.”
In truth, the group hasn’t necessarily ironed out specific duties that could be altered, and Zanik pointed out that his role has evolved since 2013. That being said, his strength is in the relationships he built with countless people in the basketball community during his 15 years as an agent.
Even as the organization embarks on a crucial summer, however, and momentum is there for Utah to sign a marquee free agent, Zanik isn’t necessarily putting too much pressure on himself to live up to the success Lindsey had in the role he’ll assume.
“It’s not about me,” he said. “This is about the organization and the group. We have a very collaborative process here that involves all aspects of the organization. All of those critical decisions that will be coming up, we’ll be doing them as a group. The motivation comes from competition within the NBA. We want to compete. We want to be the last team standing at the end of the day and it takes a lot of people to be able to do that. ... We’ve got a lot of work to do, and we’re going to do it together.”
As far as the struggles that small-market franchises such as the Jazz have in acquiring top talent via free agency and thus having sustained success, Zanik said having strong organizational leadership is key in trying to overcome that.
“I don’t care what market it is,” he said. “I think that really well-run organizations that start from ownership on down — and we have an ownership group that have truly been able to communicate to the people that work for them, work with them, that we are stewards of the organization — and I think those values and that mindset is vital to any market or any NBA organization to have success.3 comments on this story
"I think it’s something that the Millers have been at the forefront of — really having people that reflect what they want to be about in the community. They’re so entrenched here and in having an organization that the rest of the state and the city can be proud of.”
Along with keeping the team one its fans can be proud of, Zanik reiterated the ultimate goal.
“We have a very experienced front office and we know what we need to do," he said, "so however we get that done, we’re going to do it together and continue to just keep pushing forward with the Jazz to keep us on this championship-competitive path.”