The NBA Finals are underway, we are less than three weeks out from the 2024 NBA Draft and less than a month from the opening of free agency, so it’s a perfect time to open up the mailbag.

I want to start things out today with a topic that I think deserves some blunt and pointed attention — the interest from around the league in Lauri Markkanen.

There have been a number of reports recently that have tagged Markkanen as a person that other teams could be targeting. It is really important when reading through those reports to pay attention to what is actually being said. The majority of these stories that include Markkanen are proposed trade ideas that are not based in anything other than what sounds cool as an idea. Those don’t hold any real weight. We can all propose trades that will never happen.

Then, there is a second type of story that has come out — the interest from other NBA teams. These stories say that teams not named the Utah Jazz are interested in Markkanen, that teams not named the Utah Jazz believe the Jazz will listen to offers and then they ultimately say that the Jazz are likely to offer Markkanen an extension. My reaction to those claims is, ‘yeah, obviously.’

There are exactly 29 teams not named the Utah Jazz that would love to have Lauri Markkanen on their team. He is a versatile 7-foot player who shoots 40% from 3-point range and doesn’t need the ball in his hands to average upwards of 25 points per game.

The fact that the Jazz are willing to listen to offers is not news. There are only a handful of ‘untouchable’ players in the NBA and outside of those players, every team is willing to listen to offers about every player. That’s how the whole NBA world works.

Here’s what I know to be true from the Jazz’s decision makers: They want to keep Markkanen. They want him to be a part of the future with the Jazz. They feel confident in being able to reach a deal on an extension that makes Markkanen happy while still giving them some flexibility moving forward. And finally, it would take an extraordinarily large haul for another team to pique the Jazz’s interest in an offer for Markkanen — like at least four picks plus players. I do not expect the Jazz to trade Markkanen.

If the Jazz were to trade Markkanen, I would expect that move would come much farther down the road and it would be because the Jazz don’t feel like they are able to build around him in a timely manner. But with the draft capital and the financial flexibility the Jazz have, there’s no reason they shouldn’t be able to build a team that includes Markkanen.

As for Sexton, he could end up being a piece in a trade that would bring over a player that the Jazz felt like better fit with their future plans, but they also really like his age, skillset and the progress that he’s shown while in Utah.

In Danny Ainge’s end-of-year interview, he did not say that Keyonte George is not, or might not be the Jazz’s longterm point guard. He said he wasn’t sure, which is a totally fair thing to say about a 19 or 20-year-old player who was playing point guard for the first time. Here is the full quote from Ainge on that day:

“Keyonte played small forward last year, as a freshman at Baylor. He played point guard for the first time in his life this year, and he was a full time NBA point guard. And like I said, half the games he played this year, he was the focal point of the opposition defense. I think that is a great learning experience — like learning to run, pick-and-rolls. He’s way better now than he wants to start the season. I’m still not sure he’s a franchise point guard, but I think he can play point guard, I think that he can play with another guard playing the point, he can play off the ball and as a matter of fact, he’s probably more comfortable with that at this moment in time. But this experience of learning the point guard position is a big step for him and just provides a lot of versatility for our team going forward.”

The way that I understand things is that the Jazz are open to the idea of George developing into a full-time point guard and they aren’t going to limit his potential in that arena, but they are also not going to place uneccessary expectations on him becoming a franchise star point guard. They want him to be successful and it’s not totally clear yet what role he will be most successful in.

To answer the question from @jrostler, the Jazz are looking at prospects and players around the league at every position. Nothing is off the table.

I do not think the Jazz can bottom out.

I have no doubt that the Jazz’s roster will look different this season — whether at the beggining of the season or at the trade deadline — but even so, they have too many players that are capable of putting together wins to truly bottom out. In order to full on tank for a No. 1 pick, they would likely have to trade Markkanen and even then you aren’t guaranteed anything.

I think the best chance at success is staying the course at this point — using the draft capital that they’ve already accumulated, identifying long term pieces and then eventually going all in on acquiring stars.

We are heading into the third season of the Jazz’s rebuild and they still have a ways to go roster construction-wise to become a championship contender, but they have really good pieces and have a lot they can offer other teams. If the Jazz were to trade Markkanen, bottom out to try to land (for example) Cooper Flagg in the 2025 draft, that would probably set them back even further from being able to create a championship roster. Personally, if I was running the Jazz, I would not want to sign up for seven-plus years of not winning, hoping that some of these young players turn out to be stars.

Looking at the draft class, from top to bottom, regardless of what the Jazz need or like, here are some of my favorites and the reasons that I like them:

  • Frenchman Alex Sarr (NBL) is really intriguing because he has good handles while also being a 7′footer. While Markkanen has the same kind of frame and is able to shoot really well from outside, Sarr is kind of the opposite. His shot isn’t great, but he’s great at creating for himself and punishing on the inside. Sarr is defensively versatile and is a smart rebounder.
  • I usually prefer larger guards, but Jared McCain (Duke) is such a good two-way player that he seems larger than what he is, which is 6-foot-2. He is a great shooter no matter the situation — stepback, off the dribble, moving from either side, catch-and-shoot — and he puts in a lot of effort on the defensive end. He seems like the kind of guard that just has the right tools to last a long time in the NBA.
  • Cody Williams (Colorado) is the kind of versatile defender that could end up really popping in the NBA. He has a great frame and it’s clear that he is going to be a lot stronger as he gets older and fills out. He’s started shooting better over the last year and I don’t think that’s a fluke. But I think what I like the most from Williams offensively is that he’s a good passer with great length. Having a player on the wing who can act as a secondary playmaker is incredibly valuable.
  • Speaking of secondary playmakers, I think that Oso Ighodaro (Marquette) is a bit underrated in this draft. He’s 6′9.5 without shoes on and though he played center in college, he reminds me a lot of Kelly Olynyk, especially in the way that he passes. He’s so good at finding guys and knowing how and when to get it to them, whether it’s in specific actions or just reading cutters. He’s just really, really smart. He seems to always make the right decision. He’s a strong transition player, he’s a tough rebounder, he sets great screens and he has good touch.