Jul 2, 2014; Milwaukee, WI, USA; Milwaukee Bucks new head coach Jason Kidd speaks to the press as general manager John Hammond listens during a news conference at the BMO Harris Bradley Center. Mandatory Credit: Mary Langenfeld-USA TODAY Sports

By JON KRAWCZYNSKI, AP Basketball Writer

Boasting a budding star and an impressive roster of young talent, the Milwaukee Bucks are opening up their search for a new general manager to lead them into contention in the Eastern Conference.

After longtime GM John Hammond left to join friend Jeff Weltman in the Orlando Magic front office, the Bucks are bringing in respected league executive Rod Thorn to help with the search for a replacement, a person with knowledge of the situation told The Associated Press on Wednesday. The person spoke on the condition of anonymity because the Bucks were not publicly discussing their search.

Assistant GM Justin Zanik was believed to be the heir apparent to Hammond when he left the Utah Jazz to join the Bucks. Zanik, a promising young executive who was an agent before spending three years under Dennis Lindsey in Utah, will get the opportunity to interview for the position, but outside candidates will also be considered.  ESPN first reported the details of Milwaukee’s search.

The job figures to be an attractive one for prospective executives. Giannis Antetokounmpo enjoyed a breakout season this year, earning a starting spot on the Eastern Conference All-Star team and cementing himself as a franchise player.
Milwaukee also has Khris Middleton, Malcolm Brogdon and Thon Maker to go with Jabari Parker, a former No. 2 overall pick who is recovering from his second torn ACL.

The Bucks are building a new arena and have enjoyed a revival in the city under new owners Marc Lasry and Wesley Edens and coach Jason Kidd.

Whether it is Zanik or someone else, it will be a critical hire to help the Bucks move from a team that lost in six games to the Toronto Raptors in the first round of the playoffs to one that is ready to challenge the Cavaliers and Celtics at the top of the Eastern Conference.

Hammond spent nine years at the helm of the Bucks and his performance in the draft in recent seasons has been critical to the Bucks’ renaissance. Hammond went out on a limb to take Antetokounmpo in 2013 and the “Greek Freak” has morphed into a 7-foot point guard who averaged 23.2 points, 8.9 rebounds, 5.5 assists and 1.9 blocks per game this season.

Hammond also led the team that picked Parker and Maker in the first round, and Brogdon, one of the leading candidates to be named rookie of the year on June 26, in the second round last summer.

But the 62-year-old Hammond was gradually planning on stepping back in Milwaukee by the end of next season. Joining Weltman in Orlando offered Hammond a chance to work with a longtime friend to remake a struggling franchise, a move that came with the Bucks’ blessing.
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