There are many different roles one can have in the NBA, but a lot of them all overlap anyway. Sometimes coaches practice with players; sometimes a front office exec helps out on the coaching staff; sometimes agents need to crunch the numbers like scouts to gauge their clients’ values.
That being said, an agent becoming a lead team exec is not exactly unprecedented (Jason Levien had a short stint as the Sacramento Kings’ assistant general manager in 2013 while Lon Babby had a six year run as the Phoenix Suns’ head honcho).
Currently, there are four former agents serving in high front office positions: Bob Myers (President of Basketball Operations, Golden State Warriors), Rob Pelinka (General Manager, Los Angeles Lakers), Arn Tellem (Vice Chairman, Detroit Pistons) and just last week, Justin Zanik was appointed general manager of the Utah Jazz after the excellent Dennis Lindsey was rightfully promoted to Executive VP of Basketball Operations.
Let’s take a look how each candidate got where they are, and how they have fared.
After playing basketball at UCLA and winning the 1995 championship, Myers served as a radio commentator for the Bruins before his agenting career eventually culminated with agenting powerhouse Wasserman Media Group, where he interned for Arn Tellem. Throughout his agent lifespan, Myers negotiated north of $575 million in contracts. In 2011, Myers was hired as the Warriors Assistant GM, but was quickly elevated to GM after only one year. Since then, other than drafting Harrison Barnes and Draymond Green in the same draft, extending Steph Curry and Klay Thompson to team-friendly deals, hiring the fabulous Steve Kerr, establishing one of the best organizational cultures in the league, signing Andre Iguodala, Kevin Durant and DeMarcus Cousins in free agency and winning three championships, I’d say Myers has done okay for himself on the other side of the game.
Other than his illustrious careers as an agent and executive, Myers is an overall good human being. For instance, a few years back, Myers was playing pickup in a local Oakland gym when he encountered a particularly rough opponent who took a cheap shot at Myers, who fell to the ground. Myers got up and, according to the man, said “if you ever do that again, I’ll knock you down ever harder.” The man respected Myers’ toughness, and when he was looking for a sports-related job, he shyly asked Myers if there was any way he could help. Myers, the man that he is, got him an internship at the NBA Summer League.
After playing a role in Michigan’s Fab Five, Pelinka served as the leading man for Landmark Sports Agency, which represented NBA players such as James Harden, Chris Bosh, Eric Gordon, Carlos Boozer, Andre Iguodala, and most famously, Kobe Bryant. In 2017, Jeanie Buss tapped Pelinka to succeed Mitch Kupchak and Jim Buss in the front office. Since then, he has drafted Lonzo Ball, Kyle Kuzma and Josh Hart as well as trading away Timofey Mozgov’s monstrous contract and signing LeBron James last summer. Of course, like most executives, Pelinka has had to make some difficult decisions, letting D’Angelo Russell, Julius Randle and Brook Lopez go and see them flourish in other situations. Pelinka faces a crucial summer ahead, with max cap space open to pursue free agents as well as wisely using the No. 4 pick in the draft and potentially trading for Anthony Davis.
Tellem grew to become the most powerful agent in the industry when he led Wasserman’s basketball division, but he decided to join the Pistons as Vice Chairman in 2015. Tellem’s day-to-day duties are murky, but it’s clear he wields a great deal of power in the organization, which states on their website that Tellem is a, “representative of ownership, and has broad responsibility for business strategy, planning and development, and strengthening the connection between PS&E and the community.”
After graduating from Northwestern, Zanik worked as an agent for Priority Sports and ASM Sports for about 15 years before being hired by the Jazz in 2013 as Assistant GM. In 2016, Zanik left to the Bucks to fill the same position, but it was understood he would eventually become the GM. But after some disagreements on the ownership level, that plan fell through and Zanik eventually went back to Utah. Just last week, he was finally promoted to general manager, and while he obviously hasn’t had time to make franchise altering decisions, he is very well-regarded within the league.