7-Foot Tandem: Would Spurs Go In On Lauri Markkanen Deal With Jazz?

Adding talent around Victor Wembanyama is priority No. 1 for the San Antonio Spurs, and Utah Jazz power forward Lauri Markkanen not only has a sky-high upside, but also a mix of youth and experience, making him a potentially strong fit next to the rookie.
Mar 27, 2024; Salt Lake City, Utah, USA; Utah Jazz forward Lauri Markkanen (23) dunks the ball against the San Antonio Spurs during the second quarter at Delta Center.
Mar 27, 2024; Salt Lake City, Utah, USA; Utah Jazz forward Lauri Markkanen (23) dunks the ball against the San Antonio Spurs during the second quarter at Delta Center. / Rob Gray-USA TODAY Sports

SAN ANTONIO, Tx. — It's time to do some thinking.

The San Antonio Spurs currently sit in a valley. If it were a roller coaster, they'd be looking up at the peak hoping to find a way to reach it someday. Now, allow me to make this little scenario even sillier.

All of a sudden, as their nearly-ton-weighing car idly sits — representing their span of years without any playoff success and no major superstar — they see an alien spaceship cover up the sun. About as quickly as it appears, it disappears, and there stands Victor Wembanyama.

He's holding breakfast tacos, wearing a cowboy hat and using a few-too-many swear words for national television. But don't worry, the Spurs will come to love him.

San Antonio general manager Brian Wright is in the roller-coaster cart — almost done with this analogy — while Wembanyama begins to help push it up the mountain. For argument's sake, he hasn't made it move very far, yet, but he's certainly filled the minds of every one in it with hope.

He's supposed to be a superhero, after all.

Spurs owner Peter J. Holt spoke on his team's goal of building a contender in coming years, and while what that looks like is still unknown, it undoubtedly revolves around Wembanyama, which Wright would fervently agree on. Surrounding the upcoming NBA sophomore with talent is priority No. 1 for San Antonio and luckily for the Spurs, that could also look a few different ways.

One option is to improve via the NBA Draft. The Spurs reaped the benefits of the Toronto Raptors' downfall to gain two top-10 picks in June's draft, which could very well turn into young prospects with high upside. And Wright's outlook on that?

"Two lottery picks gives us a great opportunity to add two young players to our young core, (but) also see what else is out there," he said. "Like we do with everything, we will evaluate all options."

READ MORE: Spurs to Pick 4th, 8th in 2024 NBA Draft

Wright went on to describe his ideal Spurs team. He stated that it was important for the team to not only be competitive, but to be able to grow together. In other words, youth is imperative.

But even that can look a few different ways.

Examining Lauri Markkanen's Fit

Seven seasons in the NBA isn't a "young" player by any means, but considering that Utah Jazz power forward Lauri Markkanen is only 27, it seems that it could be.

Hailing from Finland — where Makkanen spent last offseason fulfilling his military obligations — the 7-footer is certainly in a unique position. He's tall enough to be a stretch forward, nimble enough to do so, but also athletic enough to be an aggressive rim protector should he need to be.

Utah — having added John Collins — didn't exactly opt to use Markkanen as a traditional center, given that isn't his level of comfort, but it also didn't need to. In fact, despite dealing with an injury that only allowed him 55 total appearances, Markkanen was on pace with his stats from last year, averaging 23.2 points and 8.2 rebounds on 48 percent shooting from the floor and just under 40 percent from 3-point range.

The veteran notched the second-highest numbers of his career and was arguably snubbed from a second consecutive All-Star selection, so minus that fact, his talent isn't exactly hidden. The Jazz wasn't an impressive unit all-around last season, which put Markkanen in a tough position to admit that he's not capable of leading a team to the postseason as a No. 1 option.

But that's not necessarily a bad thing. Markkanen has transcended the player he was to begin his career since making the move to Utah, and his second-in-command has been a disgruntled 6-foot-9 Collins. If he were to go to San Antonio, it'd be a different story altogether.

Nov 4, 2023; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Minnesota Timberwolves center Rudy Gobert (27) is defended by Utah Jazz forward John Collins (20) and forward Lauri Markkanen (23) in the first quarter at Target Center.
Nov 4, 2023; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Minnesota Timberwolves center Rudy Gobert (27) is defended by Utah Jazz forward John Collins (20) and forward Lauri Markkanen (23) in the first quarter at Target Center. / Matt Blewett-USA TODAY Sports

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Markkanen would round out a 7-foot tandem with Wembanyama and make for an explosive front court, bringing with him an impressive blend of youth and experience. The Finnish forward is just entering his prime, so the Spurs would be reaping instant benefits, but also gain a player who could grow alongside his teammates as he continues to develop.

Plus, if the Spurs needed to see anything else, he has a strong mindset defensively.

“It helps that we’re playing solid basketball,” Markkanen said when asked about his ability to play at an All-NBA level. “It starts with the defensive end, and getting stops allows us to focus on getting out in transition and getting easy ones. Once the defense collapses, it opens up things for others.”

The Jazz forward has been compared to Dirk Nowitzki in a compliment of the highest order and certainly has shown flashes of elite play, which means that the Spurs would likely need to spend a pretty penny on him if they wanted him for next season.

Markkanen has only one year left on his contract before hitting unrestricted free agency, so the Jazz would either want to hold off on a trade and nail down an extension, or get what it could from him instead of letting him walk. At the moment, here's what it could expect to receive:

Spurs-Jazz Mock Trade

SAS receives: Lauri Markkanen, Kris Dunn

UTA receives: Keldon Johnson, Malaki Branham, Sandro Mamukelashvili, 2024 First-Round Pick (via TOR), 2026 First-Round Pick, 2025 Second-Round Pick Swap

Both teams would gain a valuable asset between Markkanen and Johnson, as both are still relatively young but promising players, and the Jazz would get the Spurs' second lottery pick two spots ahead — though it could demand the No. 4 pick if it wanted to — in what could be considered a worthy deal, but the question is whether or not either team would bite.

READ MORE: Keldon Johnson 'Wants to Stay' In San Antonio

Utah has a much larger reason to decline any deals surrounding Markkanen unless it senses a growing interest from the forward in leaving, but even in a world where it was a yes from the Jazz, would the Spurs give up a player like Johnson or multiple core pieces for him?

The short answer is it depends. Brian Wright and Peter J. Holt clearly have visions of a contending team centered around Wembanyama. Markkanen would certainly make for a strong tandem with the Frenchman and if the Spurs were also able to land a point guard — whether it be in the lottery or elsewhere — all of a sudden, San Antonio is a destination.

That hasn't yet come to fruition. No deal is in the works for Markkanen (or any veteran for that matter) and it seems as if the Spurs will take the patient approach. But having two lottery picks isn't something to glance over, either. Markkanen is more-than worth one of those picks.

If the Spurs do have interest in adding another 7-footer, there arguably isn't anyone better than the Finnish forward. He'd space the floor, hold his own on defense and add size to an already tall roster.

Now, the only question remains how much they would be willing to give up in any potential deal.

It could be a lot, or it could be very little.

"Superpowers" are hard to guage, after all.


Published
Matt Guzman

MATT GUZMAN

Matt Guzman is a sports journalist and storyteller from Austin, Texas. He serves as a credentialed reporter and site manager for San Antonio Spurs On SI and a staff writer for multiple collegiate sites in the same network. In the world of professional sports, he is a firm believer that athletes are people, too, and intends to tell stories of players and teams’ true, behind-the-scenes character that otherwise would not be seen through strong narrative writing, hooking ledes and passionate words.