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How Utah Jazz general manager Justin Zanik's background as an agent helps in his new role

Justin Zanik
Justin Zanik
Utah Jazz

SALT LAKE CITY — In preparation for the upcoming NBA draft, Justin Zanik is often spotted around Zions Bank Basketball Campus for pre-draft workouts keeping a close eye on things.

In May, the newly promoted Jazz general manager was also sitting courtside, at Chicago’s Quest Multisport Complex, alongside key front office members as they scouted prospects during the 2019 NBA draft combine.

ESPN’s television crew even interviewed Zanik live on the set during the combine, with his popularity growing ever since being promoted from assistant to GM of the Jazz on May 10.

Former general manager Dennis Lindsey was moved to executive vice president of basketball operations in the process as the organization decided to restructure things ahead of a pivotal offseason.

However, for those who are familiar with Zanik’s background, particularly as a former agent, the move was a no-brainer.

“It was never a surprise to me the moment that he decided to make the jump to the team side that he would eventually end up as a GM just because of his attention to detail and his work ethic,” said NBA agent J.R. Hensley of YouFirst Sports, who is also a close friend and former colleague of Zanik's. “He also had forged great relationships throughout basketball globally that made it apparent to me that it was just a matter of time that he would be running a team at some point.”

Zanik is in charge of Utah’s day-to-day basketball operations, where his 15 years as an agent have already helped tremendously with setting up pre-draft workouts and other in-house duties.

Zanik is joining former agents like Golden State president of basketball operations Bob Myers, Detroit Pistons vice chairman Arn Tellem and Los Angeles Lakers general Manager Rob Pelinka in high NBA front office positions.

“I think it’s been a trend lately, obviously with Pelinka, Bob Myers and we’ve seen what type of success they’ve had,” said NBA agent Pedro Power, another former Zanik co-worker at YouFirst Sports who previously represented Jazz swingman Royce O’Neale.

“Justin has obviously been in the business for a long time, so he really knows what he’s talking about,” Power added. “He worked hard for his clients, so he’s perfectly suited for that job to be honest. He’s very hands on, he likes to be very detailed with everything and he knows basketball.”

Before Utah, Zanik oversaw all aspects of career management for ASM Sports’ basketball clients from 2003-13 and previously managed European player contract negotiations from 1998-2002 as vice president of basketball operations for Priority Sports & Entertainment.

Zanik served as Utah’s assistant general manager for a total of five seasons and was named a finalist for the Philadelphia 76ers GM job in 2018. Also, in 2016-17, he spent one season as assistant general manager for the Milwaukee Bucks before returning to Salt Lake City and ultimately earning his new title.

All of that previous experience has prepped him for this moment because he was already able to network with GMs, assistant general managers and coaches on the regular but had to learn to operate within the group of an organization.

“I’d never worked in an NBA organization when I first came over here,” Zanik said. “When Dennis (Lindsey) offered me the position, I thought it was a great opportunity to learn from one of the best in the business and I think I made a good decision.

“As far as the relationships and contacts and just the pure volume of negotiations that you’re involved with as an agent,” he continued. “At a few points in my agent career, we were dealing with 60-70 players a year, whether it was in Europe or the NBA, so when I came here, I already had relationships with all 30 NBA teams. I had negotiated with them or partnered with them in development for a good 10 years before I started, so that base was a good jumping off point where I didn’t have to get to know the people that I had been dealing with on this side.”

With the NBA draft set for Thursday, June 20, the Jazz currently hold the No. 23 and 53 picks. Free agency officially starts on June 30 at 4 p.m. MT.

Only time will tell if Zanik and assistant general manager David Morway, also a former Indiana Pacers GM, will land some top talent to push the team over the hump, but the hard work and dedication to their craft is certainly on display even in the month after the Jazz’s promotions.

“I was the son of two teachers — two educators — so learning about things throughout my life has always been something — I’ve always been a very curious guy,” Zanik explained.

Both Bart Taylor, the Jazz’s director of scouting and vice president of basketball operations for the Stars, and Jazz vice president of player personnel Walt Perrin have often credited Zanik and Morway following pre-draft workouts and free agent minicamp for their services in setting things up this offseason.

Utah’s seventh-annual free-agent minicamp featured more former first-round picks than ever last week, and that’s because of that dedication to making sure things are handled professionally behind the scenes.

“With his new title, I think now he can go to agents and say, ‘Listen, the guy may not be in our range but we’ve got to have him in for a workout,’ so I think that’s helped and I think it will help going forward,” Perrin said of Zanik. “The relationship that David and Justin, being former agents, have with the agents nowadays I think is really going to help us down the line in both draft and free agency.”