Lauri Markkanen is a unique NBA talent. Will the Jazz trade him? (2024)

Lauri Markkanen, the Utah Jazz’s Finnish forward, has a unique NBA skillset.

In a league that values shooting, Markkanen makes 40 percent of his 3-pointers on eight attempts a game. Add in that he’s seven feet tall, plays well above the rim, averaged 23 points and eight rebounds a night and did all of that without starter-level point guard play for much of the season. The Utah Jazz need a No. 1 option, and Markkanen is best suited as a No. 2 on a championship-level team. But at 27 years of age, Markkanen, who came to the Jazz in the trade that sent Donovan Mitchell to the Cleveland Cavaliers, is a star.

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The NBA knows this. That’s why half the league is standing in line hoping the Jazz decide to trade him. Out of that number, several reports have teams such as the Golden State Warriors, San Antonio Spurs and Sacramento Kings ramping up interest and preparing offers for the Jazz to mull.

The Jazz know this as well, which is why they are hesitant to trade Markkanen, even amid a rebuild that still appears to be in its infancy. In reality, even if the Jazz can extract a big offer and a ton of assets for Markkanen, he might be more valuable to the Jazz than the rest of the league.

From Deron Williams to Carlos Boozer to Gordon Hayward to Mitchell to Rudy Gobert, the last 20 years post-Karl Malone and John Stockton have proven to be unforgiving to the Jazz’s effort to keep a star player over the long term. Markkanen and his family are comfortable in Utah and amenable to Utah’s plans for a potential contract renegotiation and extension once that window opens later this summer.

Since the end of the season, Markkanen has consistently been in the Jazz facility working on his game, lifting and engaging with his teammates. To be sure, he wants to win, and the losing of the last two seasons has been frustrating. But he’s happy in Utah and happy with the Jazz.

These are all things the Jazz have to weigh when it comes to any decision that comes with Markkanen. You can make the argument that Markkanen is entering the prime of his career, and not on the timeline of the rest of his young and inexperienced teammates. On the other hand, for as athletic as Markkanen is, his game doesn’t rely on athleticism. In basketball terms, He should age well, which means the timeline shouldn’t be an issue.

On one hand, Markkanen’s presence helps the Jazz win, and that might not be a good thing considering how talented the NBA’s draft class 2025, led by Cooper Flagg, is. The Jazz need to lose as much as possible to keep their Nos. 1-10 protected first-round picks that they owe to the Oklahoma City Thunder.

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On the other, look at the way the Western Conference is shaping up for next season. If the Jazz, who haven’t made any major moves yet in free agency, don’t make any, one could argue that they can be as bad as any team in the Western Conference even with Markkanen.

Of course, the teams wooing the Jazz for Markkanen have their own agenda. The Warriors are trying to gear up for one last title run in the Stephen Curry era. The Kings salivate at the thought of pairing Markkanen with Keegan Murray. And can you just imagine Markkanen teamed up with Victor Wembanyama in San Antonio?

Jazz also know that many of the teams attempting to convince them to trade Markkanen are attempting to add to their core, and not subtract. So, Golden State is not going to offer Jonathan Kuminga. The Kings won’t offer Murray. If the Oklahoma City Thunder call, they aren’t offering Jalen Williams. Many of the offers the Jazz have on the table are pick heavy. But if the Jazz trade Markkanen to anyone, they are likely making that team quite a bit better. So, how good will those picks ultimately be? That’s a question the Jazz have to answer.

Of course, the argument for trading Markkanen is the talent level in the 2025 and 2026 NBA Drafts. They are both terrific, with dynamic franchise-level talent at the top. In 2025, there is Flagg. But there is also Ace Bailey, Dylan Harper, and Nolan Traore, perhaps the best point guard to come out of France since Tony Parker. In 2026, there is Cam Boozer, the son of Carlos. There is AJ Dybantsa, Koa Peat and Ian Jackson. Utah needs as many bites of the apple at those draft classes as possible. It’s fair to ask if they can put themselves in that position with Markkanen on the roster.

Over the next few days, the Jazz will set the course for the 2024-25 season. They have signed Drew Eubanks, the rough-and-tumble center who played for the Phoenix Suns last season. That, however, is the only substantial move so far. The Jazz have been steadfast in their assertion with Markkanen despite the noise that’s been around a potential trade the last few days: They don’t want to trade Markkanen.

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If a team wants to trade for Markkanen, their offer is going to have to force general manager Justin Zanik and executive Danny Ainge to go to owner Ryan Smith and essentially say, “Hey, we need to think about this.”

What does that exceptional offer look like? Only Ainge and Zanik can answer that. At the same time, the Brooklyn Nets trading Mikal Bridges to the New York Knicks for five first-round picks sets a market. Did the Knicks overpay for Bridges? Probably. But they had to do the trade because Bridges represented a final piece to their puzzle.

Do the Jazz feel they have that kind of “Godfather” offer? As of Monday night, that answer is probably “No,” because Markkanen remains in a Jazz uniform.

It’s a fascinating battle that Utah is having with itself knowing there is another treasure trove of assets out there somewhere, and knowing that the next two draft classes are where the franchise has the best chances of obtaining that elusive No. 1 option that every NBA champion needs. But there is so much to be said for the Jazz figuring out a way to bottom out this coming season, with Markkanen on the roster, and coming away with Flagg or Bailey or Harper, and having their No. 2, Markkanen, already in place.

There is also a lot to be said for allowing Utah’s young players to develop this coming season and take their collective lumps. Keyonte George, Taylor Hendricks and Brice Sensabaugh are heading into their second seasons and Walker Kessler is heading into his third. Isaiah Collier, Cody Williams and Kyle Filipowski are rookies. Those are a bunch of youngsters the Jazz need to play and evaluate. Barring Utah becoming a player in free agency over the next few days, those guys are in line to see a lot of opportunity.

Even if Markkanen extends, that likely won’t stop teams from trying to test Utah’s resolve at the trade deadline or next summer. It has become one of the major storylines of every offseason. We shouldn’t expect the chatter to die down anytime soon.

(Photo of Lauri Markkanen: Alex Goodlett / Getty Images)

Lauri Markkanen is a unique NBA talent. Will the Jazz trade him? (1)Lauri Markkanen is a unique NBA talent. Will the Jazz trade him? (2)

Tony Jones is a Staff Writer at The Athletic covering the Utah Jazz and the NBA. A native of the East Coast and a journalism brat as a child, he has an addiction to hip-hop music and pickup basketball, and his Twitter page has been used for occasional debates concerning Biggie and Tupac. Follow Tony on Twitter @Tjonesonthenba

Lauri Markkanen is a unique NBA talent. Will the Jazz trade him? (2024)

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