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Q&A: Lauri Markkanen on his All-Star goals and being traded for Donovan Mitchell

The Jazz forward decribes the reason behind his breakout season, his upbringing in Finland and overcoming a slow start to his career.


Lauri Markkanen is having an All-Star caliber season with 23.1 points and 8.2 rebounds per game.

Standing in an empty gym, Lauri Markkanen conjured up his inner old-school soul, pulling out a Polaroid camera to snap a picture.

It’s a ritual Markkanen started in his sixth NBA season and first with the Utah Jazz.

“Nothing too crazy,” he said. “It’s a memory for my family and to show them what I’m doing.”

The Finland native usually takes photos of his No. 23 Jazz jersey at every road venue. Come February, Markkanen may be capturing memorable shots from his home arena when the 2023 NBA All-Star Game comes to Salt Lake City.

Markkanen, 25, is garnering All-Star consideration for posting career highs in points (23.1), along with his marks from the field (53%) and 3-point range (43.2%). The 7-foot forward spoke to about his chances for earning his first trip to the midseason showcase, the Jazz’s surprising start, challenges in Chicago and how late nights shaped his NBA fandom from overseas.

Editor’s note: This 1-on-1 conversation has been condensed and edited.

What was your reaction when you learned about Cleveland trading you to Utah?

It was 10:30 at night, and I was with the Finnish national team. We were playing the next morning against Israel in the first game of EuroBasket. We were just playing video games and saw the news that Cleveland got Donovan Mitchell. We were excited. But I joked, ‘We’ll see who is a part of the deal.’ But the initial report didn’t have any names on who was traded. I wondered if I was a part of it. Then, 20 seconds later, [Cavs general manager Koby Altman] called me. Then, I put it together.

How would you compare your initial expectations of your role and the team’s success to what has actually happened to start the season?

I had high expectations, especially after this summer. I got my confidence going with the national team. There were a lot of NBA guys [in EuroBasket]. Physically, I’m in the best shape of my life. So, I had high expectations from the beginning. We have a lot of good players on this team. So, I had high expectations with the team even coming into the year, especially after training camp started. We have a good team. We just have to stay on the same page and build off our chemistry. We have a lot of new guys. But that was the same thing last season when I was in Cleveland. Everyone was doubting you at the beginning of the year. Then we started out well. Having that experience and then going into training camp, I knew we had a good team. We just have to keep going and keep getting better with knowing each other and staying on the same page.


The Jazz have been better than many expected this season.

You have a big role with the Finnish national team. But what else contributed to you having confidence and feeling you were in the best shape?

It was just the work I put in. I followed my workout routine back home. That’s been helping as well as playing all of these games. I was also able to see the Jazz coaching staff [before training camp]. They know what they’re about and really easy to work with. It’s also about having good teammates around me. The way we play basketball, it’s unselfish and we share the ball. It makes it easy for everybody.

What did you do with the game ball after your career-high 38-point game against Phoenix?

I took it home. I rolled it under our bed so the kids wouldn’t play with it. We’ll do something with it. But hopefully, that’s not the last one.

They haven’t tried crawling under the bed yet?

(laughs). No, not yet.

What do you think it will take to make the All-Star team?

That has always been a personal goal of mine. It takes a lot. It takes us winning basketball games. We have to keep this thing going. I just have to keep getting better every day and putting numbers up on a winning team. That’s the trick. I know if I play to the best to my abilities, it’ll help the team.

Your teammate Mike Conley said he’s encouraged you to be more vocal. How do you become comfortable doing that?

I’m trying to get better. I’ve tried to lead by example. But I’ve been in the league for (six) years now. I’m trying to become comfortable with being a vocal leader as well. I’ve seen stuff throughout the years compared to being a rookie, while still leading by example.

It takes us winning basketball games. We have to keep this thing going. I just have to keep getting better every day and putting numbers up on a winning team. That’s the trick.”

— Lauri Markkanen, on his All-Star chances

Your coach Will Hardy said it’s important not to micromanage you and believes that giving you freedom brings out the best in you. What’s your perspective on that?

It’s really easy. He’s a really great coach. He’s easy to work with and a great person. You can go up to him and talk to him about anything, not just basketball. He’s an easily approachable guy. It’s been really fun working with him. It’s a good start. It’s impressive how he has the whole team buying in and being together. He’s been doing a great job. It’s a pleasure to play for him.

How does that role contrast to the end of your time in Chicago?

Looking back, I could’ve done things better in previous places I played for. But I wasn’t the player I am today when I was there. I just kept working and kept getting better. You have to progress, and you can’t rush into it. I’ve gotten better as a player with how I approach the game.

How did you try to navigate the reality, though, that the Bulls went through different coaches and systems, which resulted in you having a reduced role?

It’s hard when things are not going the way you want. Obviously, you have high expectations for yourself. When things are not going your way, it’s hard. But it made me better going through that struggle. I had to fight through it and figure it out. That made me get better.

How did you fight through it?

I’ve had good teammates and experienced vets that talked me through it. Off the court, I work on my mental approach to the game. I won’t go too much into that, but there are points that we work on. So, I keep trying to improve that aspect. But overall, it’s maturing as a person. You understand the game more, and what goes into it.

Growing up in Finland, how did you get exposed to the NBA?

Growing up, we didn’t really have access toward watching NBA basketball that much. It was mostly highlights. The only games I could watch were the Magic and Lakers in the [2009] NBA Finals at 4 a.m. That was the first time I actually watched a full game. I didn’t usually wake up for the games. I watched highlights and recaps. Once I came here [at the University of Arizona], I started watching it more. I was finally in the same time zone. I love basketball. It was awesome to be more exposed to basketball. I could see it more consistently and see how different guys play.

Lauri Markkanen discusses his trade to the Jazz and how he was able to quickly find his rhythm in Utah.

Now that you’re in the NBA, what is the viewing experience for any friends and family back home?

They’re the same way I was as a kid with watching the recaps and box scores. I don’t think they’re waking up to watch the games. But it’s good to know that they’re tuning in later. It’s pretty cool to think that I once played with those guys, and now they’re watching me play in the NBA.

What does it mean for you to have your wife and kids here with you instead of them being in Finland?

I try to play as well as I can for them and my family. It means a lot with having that support when you’re having a tough time or a good time. They have your back, no matter what. It gives you more to play for, especially when my kids were born. No matter if I’m having a good game or a bad game, I’m able to block it out. When I get home, my kids just want to play hide-and-seek. It doesn’t matter how you play. It gives perspective that it’s just basketball, and there’s more to life as well.

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Mark Medina is a senior writer/analyst for You can e-mail him here, find his archive here and follow him on Twitter.

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