Giannis Antetokounmpo Praises John Hammond for His Leadership and Guidance

By John Denton
May 25, 2017

ORLANDO – John Hammond has a storied history of success in the NBA because of his keen eye for talent, his understanding of the dynamics of team building and his ability to mesh well with players, coaches and front-office types.

But many of his accomplishments can also be attributed to the trusting relationships and unbreakable bonds that he forms with those closest to him. Take it from none other than NBA rising star Giannis Antetokounmpo about what Hammond’s friendship and belief have meant to him.

``Where can I start … this man gave me the opportunity of a lifetime!’’ Antetokounmpo, a 2013 NBA Draft pick, posted on Instagram below two celebratory photos of him and Hammond. ``He taught me how to be a professional on and off the court. He helped mold me into the man that I am today. This guy took a chance on me at 18 years old and I am forever grateful. Congratulations Mr. Hammond. I wish you the best with your future in Orlando. From the bottom of my heart thank you for changing, not only my life, but my family’s life as well! #MyGuy #ToBeContinued’’

Now the new GM of the Orlando Magic, Hammond hopes to work with President of Basketball Operations and close friend Jeff Weltman to build those same kinds of relationships in Central Florida. Humble and quick to credit others for his success, Hammond, 62, said he’s fortunate to find himself in another great work environment with the Magic because of the relationships he’s made along the way.

``So many times you are kind of just in the right place at the right time,’’ said Hammond, a 26-year NBA veteran and a champion in 2004 while working for the Pistons. ``My time in Detroit, that begins and ends with (former Pistons President of Basketball Operations) Joe Dumars. Joe is one of the greatest people in this business and he was the architect of what we had there in Detroit – six consecutive Eastern Conference Finals and a championship. I was by his side in those times and Joe allowed me to have input in every big and small decision. That makes you feel very invested when you have something like that.

``When I worked with Jeff (Weltman) in Milwaukee, he and I tried to do the same thing,’’ Hammond added. ``I know that we’ll work the same way moving forward in Orlando.’’

Hammond had success in his previous nine years rebuilding the Bucks as their GM, but he was quick to jump at the Magic’s GM opening because it afforded him the opportunity to work once again with Weltman, the 52-year-old fellow basketball-lifer who was appointed President of Basketball Operations on Monday. Hammond and Weltman worked previously with the Los Angeles Clippers, Pistons and Bucks and they’re eager to tackle the project of rebuilding a Magic franchise that has missed the playoffs each of the past five seasons.

Asked on Wednesday at his introductory news conference why he picked Hammond to be his GM, Weltman was candid and to the point.

``Because he’s better than me,’’ Weltman cracked. ``John’s a talented guy and an amazing human being. ``It wasn’t a thought of, `Is he the right guy?’ The only thought was, `Can I actually get this guy and is it realistic?’ The fact that I’m able to bring him here, that’s thrilling to me.’’

It’s thrilling to Hammond, too, because of the personal bond and like-minded thinking that the two share. Hammond was the GM and Weltman was the assistant GM when the two were together in Milwaukee, but the role reversal won’t matter now in Orlando because of the willingness to share ideas and mutual respect, Hammond said.

``For me, it was an opportunity to do this with Jeff. That’s what it came down to for me – the opportunity to work with him and help him in any way that I can,’’ Hammond said. ``It’s a relationship where we can almost finish the other’s sentence. We can do that and do do that at times. It’s a comfort zone for he and myself. When you can work in environments like that, it makes going to work fun every day.’’

Hammond figures he’ll have lots of fun working with head coach Frank Vogel, someone he has admired for years while competing in the same division for years while at Milwaukee and Indiana. Hammond and Weltman both said they will lean heavily on Vogel’s expertise to get a better understanding of the talent already in place and the needs of the team. On the surface, Hammond likes what he has seen from a talent core that includes Nikola Vucevic, Evan Fournier, Bismack Biyombo, Terrence Ross, Aaron Gordon, Elfrid Payton and Mario Hezonja.

``Obviously, there are very good players on this roster,’’ Hammond said. ``For Jeff and I, there is still an evaluation process that we have to go through so that we can get to know the players better personally and professionally. Along with Frank, we’ll be making those player evaluations. It’s a process that we have to go through and it doesn’t happen overnight. But when you look at this roster, I think there’s a lot of potential and flexibility and talent that you can move forward.’’

In the immediate future, Hammond will be readying himself and the Magic for the June 22nd NBA Draft. He will go into it armed with the sixth, 25th, 33rd and 35th picks – ammunition that he can use to work his magic in possibly uncovering another hidden gem such as Antetokounmpo, a second-team All-NBA selection this season.

Hammond took a chance on the raw and lanky ``Greek Freak’’ in 2013 with the No. 15 pick and struck gold in a player who could be considered a great for years to come. This time last year, Hammond also uncovered Thon Maker with the No. 10 pick and Rookie of the Year finalist Malcolm Brogdon at No. 36. Now, he’ll be charged with doing the same for a Magic team in need of another injection of shooting and playmaking.

``Any time you are talking about building and building toward a championship, one of the most important elements of doing that is through the draft,’’ Hammond said. ``That terminology, `the more swings that you have at it, the better off you will be’ fits here. You want to get those picks right and you want those guys to be long-term players for you.’’

As for Antetokounmpo, Hammond admitted that it’s been especially gratifying for him to draft a project player at 18 years old and see him grow into the superstar and person that everyone can be proud of. Hammond said he’ll always take pride in playing a small role in Antetokounmpo’s success and he hopes he can build a similar relationship with another young star in Orlando.

``It means an awful lot to me (what Antetokounmpo posted on Instagram),’’ Hammond said. ``Giannis has a chance to be a superstar player in this league and he’ll keep moving toward that. But more than that, he’s an extraordinary man. What he’s done on the floor speaks for itself, but people don’t know who he is off the floor. For me, it’s just an honor to be a part of who he is and his career.’’

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