Utah Jazz star Lauri Markkanen is ready to win. Are the Jazz ready to help him?

The Finnish All-Star says he’ll need time to consider his options when it comes to a likely contract extension offer.

(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 stands alone in a Utah Jazz uniform.

The 26-year-old Finn has been, by far, his team’s best player over the last two seasons. He started in last year’s All-Star game, received All-NBA votes, and kept up that same level of play this season. One of the NBA’s best contracts, he made just $17 million this year, and will make $18 million next year. Literally every team in the NBA would love to have Markkanen on their roster, and especially at that price.

Yet ... he’s never played in a playoff game.

Early in his career, he simply hadn’t developed enough to be a difference-maker. Now in his prime, his teammates simply don’t have the quality to support his ambitions. Even if the Jazz had just one more player like Markkanen, they’d likely be in the playoffs.

So there’s an obvious question: What does Markkanen want the team’s front office to do this summer?

“I want to win basketball games and get to the playoffs,” Markkanen said. “Hopefully, at the end, get all the way to the ultimate goal. And they know that.”

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Utah Jazz forward Lauri Markkanen (23) reaches fora rebound along with San Antonio Spurs forward Jeremy Sochan (10), in NBA action between the Utah Jazz and the San Antonio Spurs, at the Delta Center, on Wednesday, March 27, 2024.

Jazz general manager Justin Zanik agreed with Markkanen’s goal, but said the franchise can’t change its timeline to make Markkanen’s — and, it must be said, Jazz fans’ — playoff dreams come true sooner rather than later.

“Lauri’s a hugely important piece for us now and going forward,” Zanik said. “I don’t want to waste any years of that, but you also have to do it within the timeline.

“We’re not trying to say, ‘Hey, Lauri, we’ll make you happy because you’ve never made the playoffs, so we’re going to burn all our picks and get some marginal improvement from an overpaid player so that maybe we’ll be a seven seed,’” Zanik continued. “Our goal is to make the playoffs and then grow from there. So what are those moves that can do that? As Lauri grows and continues to get better, then we’re adding so they can grow with him.”

Jazz CEO Danny Ainge, meanwhile, says the front office is “ready to go big game hunting” if the right opportunity presents itself.

Zanik and Ainge likely won’t hear a demand to go all-in now from the typically reserved Markkanen. Using his leverage as the Jazz’s best player to force the Jazz to act would be out of character for Markkanen, even though other NBA stars likely would with just one year left on his contract.

Instead, Markkanen publicly says that he wants to put pressure on that timeline not through his words, but through his game.

“I look at this whole situation just as a way for myself to get better. One way to affect (the timeline) is to get so much better and work on your game, that it speeds things up. The better I’m playing, the better our team is playing,” he said. “That’s my part of the job, to fast forward this.

“I know how the business works and they had to make those tough decisions and obviously they want to win a championship as well,” Markkanen continued. “So they’re doing the best they can towards that and I think we have a lot of good people in this organization that have shown that they can do the job. So I have trust for those guys.”

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Utah Jazz forward Lauri Markkanen (23) as the Utah Jazz host the San Antonio Spurs, NBA basketball in Salt Lake City on Sunday, Feb. 25, 2024.

The 7-footer noted that he hadn’t met with the team’s front office as of Thursday. But he acknowledged that he would likely be offered an extension from the Jazz this summer, though he feels that his choice on whether to sign it might be determined more by timing than by who the Jazz select as his teammates.

Like many impending free agents, Markkanen will likely have the choice of taking a still-massive-but-smaller extension, or betting on himself and trying to get a max deal in 2025. A renegotiated contract this summer could see Markkanen make around $200 million over the course of five years, while a free agent contract signed next summer could mean $250 million or so in a five-year deal.

“I don’t want to be the guy ...,” Markkanen said and paused. “Like, I’ve seen NBA people turning down extensions, or signing them too early.

“I’ve got to sit down and think about it.”