It’s officially day one of the NBA trade season and Danny Ainge and Justin Zanik are already in the news. According to Jake Fischer, Lauri Markkanen is no longer untouchable in trade talks.
Latest for @YahooSports: Emptying the notebook on usual trade suspects like Zach Lavine, Pascal Siakam and O.G. Anunoby. But with a lack of clear sellers, several teams have indeed called Utah and learned a surprising change in Lauri Markkanen’s status https://t.co/LLCWBsn0fj— Jake Fischer (@JakeLFischer) December 15, 2023
From Jake Fischer’s article:
Lauri Markkanen has indeed emerged as a fascinating, albeit unlikely trade candidate before February’s buzzer. The Jazz held designs of further competing in the Western Conference after Markkanen emerged as an All-Star in his first season in Salt Lake City, league sources told Yahoo Sports, as Utah engaged Portland about acquiring Damian Lillard and then Jrue Holiday before this season tipped. Moving on from Markkanen would mark a stark change of direction from trying to add an All-NBA caliber point guard to run Utah’s offense alongside Markkanen’s versatile skill set.
And yet the Jazz are mired in an 8-16 start, prompting several teams to phone Utah’s front office in order to gauge its willingness to move Markkanen, sources said. The Jazz are by no means expected to trade the 7-foot sharpshooter at this juncture. He’s been a true favorite of Jazz officials, sources said. But Utah has indeed left opposing executives with the sense that Markkanen is no longer untouchable in trade conversations, league sources told Yahoo Sports, a tangible change from previous transaction windows. Markkanen will be eligible to negotiate and extend his current contract before its final season begins in 2024-25. And there’s a sentiment among cap strategists that Utah perhaps won’t consider Markkanen’s next salary point a worthwhile cost if the Jazz are so far from the playoff picture with Markkanen as their best player. But it would surely take a massive haul for some team to pry the 26-year-old from the Jazz.
“Do I expect Utah to trade Lauri? No,” another general manager told Yahoo Sports. “But they are saying they’re willing to listen. They are willing to listen to calls on everyone, but it’s a matter of meeting their price like Minnesota did for Rudy [Gobert].”
“Everyone” is said to include veterans like Jordan Clarkson, Kelly Olynyk, John Collins, Collin Sexton and Talen Horton-Tucker, according to league sources, but not starting point guard and rookie standout Keyonte George.
But Markkanen’s status already has and will continue generating significant buzz around the league if Utah continues entertaining rivals’ inquiries. It would be front-office malpractice not to at least understand what it would take to land Markkanen. League personnel believe three teams in particular value the Finnish forward at this preliminary stage of trade conversations. Two of those apparent suitors, Sacramento and Atlanta, make sense, considering the Kings’ and Hawks’ respective approaches for Siakam. The third team league personnel continue mentioning to watch for a potential Markkanen approach is Oklahoma City, suddenly second in the West with a trove of first-round picks.
There’s a ton to disect here. First, Fischer mentions that it’s unlikely the Jazz move on from Lauri Markkanen. He’s a “fascinating but unlikley” candidate this trade season. He also quotes another GM who says the same thing UNLESS someone meets their asking price. But the fact that there is an asking price means that Markkanen could be had.
That asking price can probably be figured out based on the trades for Rudy Gobert and Donovan Mitchell. Mitchell wanted to be traded, and everyone can guess where, which lowered some of Ainge’s leverage, but Mitchell also had his full max contract ahead of him which made him enticing to multiple teams. His price ended up being a rookie in Ochai Agbaji, Lauri Markkanen, Collin Sexton (sign and traded to make the numbers work), 3 first round picks and 2 first round pick swaps (by the way, I still can’t believe Ainge and Zanik got that for a player wanting to be traded). Is that what the Jazz are asking for with Markkanen? Markkanen is nearing the end of his deal, which would probably be less with another team unless they got a promise from Markkanen he would re-sign. All that said, Danny Ainge is not known for underselling his team’s assets so if there’s a team out there that wants him, they’ll have to pay up for him.
Fischer mentions the Kings and Hawks as potential suitors with the Thunder as a team to watch. All those teams could lput together nice packages for Markkanen, especially the Thunder. With SGA, Chet Holmgren, and Lauri Markkanen, the Thunder could be considered a powerhouse and Markkanen could fit into their timeline and team makeup perfectly. OKC might be willing to give up some young assets that Utah could develop along with some of their treasure trove of picks. Is this the move the Thunder make? It certainly seems like the team that makes the most sense.
Fischer also mentions other players on the trade block including Jordan Clarkson, Kelly Olynyk, John Collins, Collin Sexton and Talen Horton-Tucker, names that shouldn’t surprise Jazz fans all that much. The big one is John Collins who has had a bounceback year under Will Hardy. In Andy Larsen’s recent article he mentioned that the Jazz have been frustrated this season with Collins. From Larsen’s article:
Perhaps the biggest surprise on the trade block is new power forward acquisition John Collins, the source said. The 26-year-old has the lowest on-court/off-court splits of any rotation player on the team, and the team has been frustrated with his slow uptake on learning the Jazz’s system on both ends of the floor.
This could definitely be part of the reason for a trade, but I think the fact that Utah has undewerwhelmed this season and we’ve seen the rise of Taylor Hendricks, it makes sense the Jazz would be interested in moving John Collins if they can. His value is likely as high as it will ever be, and it will make room for Taylor Hendricks to get more minutes.
Kelly Olynyk is another interesting trade candidate. He’s played really well for Utah since his arrival and has been a connecting piece while he’s on the floor. If another team wants to get Olynyk he can surely be had, especially since he’s on the last year of his contract. Olynyk would be a fantastic addition to any contending team with his shooting, passing and overall offensive feel.
THT and Collin Sexton being available is no surprise, especially with the rise of Keyonte George. More minutes for George means more development and Utah is likely interested in getting him, and Hendricks, as much play time as possible but that likely means trades.
All that said, it’s still important to remember that the article mentions it’s unlikely a trade happens, but let’s just look at some of the context here and why there are some signs that maybe something is coming.
1. It’s literally day one of trade season and a rumor like this drops. Utah is aware of these things and isn’t afraid to let this get out there. Now every team knows Ainge will listen to offeres for Markkanen and that will put him on the top of the list for every front office looking at options to improve their team. Will an owner out there make a rash move to get some playoff ticket money? Will a GM out there, someone like Troy Weaver in Detroit, looking to save their job want to make a big move?
2. John Collins has now missed three games because of illness. When things like this happen in succesion, it makes you wonder. Could this mean that Utah is looking to keep him healthy in case a contender comes calling? Is something already in the works?
3. We have heard over and over again from local reports that Markkanen likes it in Utah but he also really wants to win. Sometimes you need to listen to what people are saying. Markkanen is a great player and a great teammate and Utah loves him, but if they know that their future outlook does not include the playoffs over the next couple of seasons, they need to consider making a move now that could sell high on their MIP rather than lose him for nothing, something Utah has dealt with in the past.
It’s day one of trade season and Trader Danny is already doing his thing. The question is, will something actually happen or is this just the rumors that always come with Danny Ainge?