New GM Jon Horst's draft expertise makes sense for Bucks

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MILWAUKEE -- To Jon Horst, his interview with Milwaukee Bucks owners for the vacant general manager job felt more like an extended conversation.

He had worked in the organization as the director of basketball operations since 2008. He was usually among those in the room to give former GM John Hammond advice.

Horst, 34, might have been a surprise pick to replace Hammond among observers outside the organization. But there was a sense of familiarity when the franchise formally introduced Horst as the new general manager on Monday.

"There was a process that we went through. It may seem like a surprising outcome. I've been asked that question by other people," co-owner Wes Edens said as Horst smiled next to him. "At the end of it all, it was never really a surprise for us."

Hammond left to take the Orlando Magic GM job on May 23. Bucks assistant GM Justin Zanik was among those interviewed in what Edens called a comprehensive process that also relied on a search firm and advice from consultant Rod Thorn, an NBA front office veteran.

The owners were familiar with Horst, though his name didn't appear to enter the mix as a potential candidate until relatively late in the search. Horst was already involved in prep for the NBA draft, which is Thursday.

"People had their personal favorites for one reason or another, and we talked about that," Edens said when asked if the deliberations over the search were contentious. "That's a very positive process to go through. That part of the process I feel good about, and the results I feel even better about."

Now Horst will be making his first draft selection, the 17th overall in the first round.

"One of the many benefits of me being in this position now is I've been working on the Milwaukee Bucks draft process . . . for over a year. I'm an internal candidate, so we're in a great spot for the draft," Horst said.

Horst called Hammond a mentor, having first worked with his predecessor in Detroit while Hammond was an assistant for then-GM Joe Dumars. He followed Hammond to Milwaukee when Hammond took the Bucks job in 2008.

Horst has been described as hard-working and someone who is a consensus-builder. Over the years, he took on more responsibility, though ultimately never had the final say.


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He will get input on the draft from a couple of longtime Bucks front office executives in scouting director Billy McKinney, who is a former GM himself, and vice president of player personnel Dave Babcock, as well as coach Jason Kidd.

When asked, Edens said the front office would operate with a "traditional" power structure. Horst makes the basketball decisions.

When Edens and fellow co-owner Marc Lasry bought the team in 2014, there were questions about whether Hammond would remain in Milwaukee. Hammond ended up working with the new owners for another three-plus years, with much of Hammond's staff remaining as well.

"As basketball fans, we've become more knowledgeable fans in the past couple years. But we're not GMs, so (a traditional power structure) is how we intend to run things," Edens said.

Horst's hiring comes at an important time for the up-and-coming franchise, with a new downtown arena scheduled to open for the 2018-19 season. The Bucks are coming off their first winning season since 2009-10, and forward Giannis Antetokounmpo has turned into an NBA All-Star.

Zanik has left the Bucks after having once been considered the heir-apparent for the GM job when he arrived from the Utah Jazz a year ago. Edens praised Zanik's contributions, which included overseeing draft prep in the period between general managers.