Should Utah Jazz fans really be worried about a Lauri Markkanen trade?

“I trust the guys we have in the building,” the team’s All-Star says.

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Utah Jazz forward Lauri Markkanen (23) as the Utah Jazz host the Memphis Grizzlies, NBA basketball in Salt Lake City on Wednesday, Nov. 1, 2023.

Lauri Markkanen says he wants to stay in Utah.

The 26-year-old has been the Jazz’s brightest star since the franchise reset by trading Donovan Mitchell and Rudy Gobert to other teams. Markkanen has far exceeded expectations — first by being named an All-Star, then an All-Star starter, then winning the NBA’s Most Improved Player award last season.

This season, he’s played at the same level, though the rest of the roster hasn’t followed. The Jazz don’t look like playoff contenders, despite Markkanen’s efforts.

The result? Trade rumors

Last Thursday, The Salt Lake Tribune reported the Jazz want to continue to build around Markkanen as a centerpiece moving forward, and that the team feels confident in its ability to retain the Finnish star after his contract expires in 2025.

But while other media reports agree on the Jazz’s appreciation of Markkanen and his game, there are differing reports on how willing they might be to trade him for future-looking assets anyway. ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reported simply, “Plenty of teams interested in him; but Utah values him a great, great deal.” Yahoo! Sports’ Jake Fischer reported that “Utah has indeed left opposing executives with the sense that Markkanen is no longer untouchable in trade conversations.”

The Ringer’s Kevin O’Connor reported that a successful opposing offer for Markkanen would have to approach the return the Jazz got in their star trades of 2022 — while noting Danny Ainge’s consistent belief that no player is untouchable in the NBA.

“My impression from talking to teams is that (the required offer) is something resembling the haul the Jazz received for Mitchell and Gobert: so, five-ish firsts and/or players of comparable value,” O’Connor wrote.

That’s a lot. If the report is true, it would be a high enough bar to clear that it’s fair to characterize a Markkanen trade as unlikely.

Markkanen speaks

Still, it means that he’ll have to sweat it out through the league’s trade deadline on Feb. 8. It’s a familiar position, as Markkanen has been traded twice before in the NBA: once from Chicago to Cleveland in 2021, once from Cleveland to Utah in 2022. Even the pick used to select Markkanen was traded on draft night from the Timberwolves to the Bulls.

But while Markkanen knows being an NBA player means the constant threat of player movement, it doesn’t mean that he wants to leave Utah. Speaking to The Tribune on Wednesday, he reconfirmed his desire to be with the Jazz for the long term, and explained why he wants to stay.

“It’s just the organization. Like, we’ve got good guys. It’s a front office that I trust and a coaching staff that has come along really well. I think the stuff that we’re doing can work,” Markkanen said. “We really see it on the court that if we execute our stuff we can be really good.”

“Of course, it’s the NBA. There might be some changes at some point but we can’t control that. Like I said, I trust the guys we have in the building,” Markkanen continued.

So what does Markkanen make of the losses?

“I think it’s mostly because we’re not doing our thing,” he said. “I think whenever we execute our defensive game plan and obviously our offensive one too, we’re in every game, even if we don’t win.”

Good relationship between star and coach

Game plan buy-in has been a frequent point of inconsistency for this season’s Jazz — ironic, given the team’s success in implementing head coach Will Hardy’s plans during last season’s surprising run in the coach’s first year. But it’s worth noting that the Jazz’s star and their head coach are on the same page about those game plans, even as the team has scuffled.

Hardy noted that he’s worked to earn Markkanen’s trust, ever since the early months after the team acquired him in September of 2022.

“I’ve done my best to spend as much time with Lauri as possible,” Hardy said. “Trust is a living, breathing thing. It’s something that has to be focused on, and you have to give time and attention to it. ... I think going about it that way with Lauri, we’ve been able to really forge a very close relationship.”

And Hardy said that the Jazz’s star is also in agreement about the franchise’s future.

“Lauri recognizes that what I want and what we want is to become a team that is competitive — not just in like a one-year moment, but we’re trying to build something that’s sustainable,” Hardy said. “We’re trying to be a team that has a championship window. It’s not about making the playoffs. It’s not about winning X number of games. It’s about setting yourself up to be in a position to go for the whole thing.

“His voice and his presence is something that I lean on. There are only so many hours that the team is together and the coaches are in the room. And so yeah, Lauri’s opinion of where we are, where we’re going, what we’re doing, believing in what we’re doing, is massive for our program.”

It’s also rare in the NBA to have a star, coach, and front office in alignment about both the team’s current and its future. Jazz fans know from experience that such a foundation is worth savoring.

“He knows what I believe in. He believes in the same things,” Hardy said. “We’re really in lockstep in this whole thing — we both want the same thing for the Utah Jazz.”

Even if they seem far away now.

Editor’s note • This story is available to Salt Lake Tribune subscribers only. Thank you for supporting local journalism.