Call of Duty: Markkanen reacts to trade with 30-point double-doubles
PRAGUE (Czech Republic) - Players talk about it all the time. Hearing the news that you were traded is always shocking, never easy. For Lauri Markkanen, the news came on the eve of FIBA EuroBasket 2022.
The Finnish star found out about it the same way the rest of us did. A notification on his phone pointed to tweets from the most well-known NBA news-breakers reporting first that the Cleveland Cavaliers would be acquiring Donovan Mitchell and subsequently that Markkanen would be included in the trade and would make the reverse trip, to Utah Jazz.
A season full of poster dunks, big threes, and fun celebrations.— Cleveland Cavaliers (@cavs) September 3, 2022
Thank you, Lauri ❤️✨ pic.twitter.com/ToVJVo86eP
Nowadays, it's not unusual for a player to find out about his future this way rather than hearing from their GM or their agent first. But, if it's going to be that way, maybe there are some positives for it to happen at a big event such as FIBA EuroBasket, when you are surrounded by your brothers on the national team, the guys who know you your entire life.
"It was an emotional night. Knowing I have my teammates here, they came through. They came to my room to give me their support," Markkanen said.
"I just try to think about... It doesn't matter what's happening over there, it matters what happens on that floor," he said pointing beyond the walls of the press conference room, back towards the playing field.
No distractions - Markkanen keeps his eyes on the prize even in the wake of a career-altering NBA trade
Speaking of fields, his teammates were - quite literally - right next to him in the battlefield when he found out that he was getting traded. They were watching his back with virtual loaded guns when the call happened.
"We were actually playing [videogame] Call of Duty at the same time, when he said: 'Oh s***, there is news about a trade, but no players included yet," Sasu Salin recounted.
"And then the GM called. It was tough, but I think this is his character: He's gonna show (his worth) here first, and then he's gonna go to Utah and do some damage."
If the first four games in Prague are anything to go by, 'do some damage' is an understatement. In the first games in Group D, Markkanen's performances were so devastating they evoked images of those whole-building-collapses demolition videos:
- 33 points and 12 rebounds against Israel;
- 17 points, 5 rebounds and 4 assists in just 23 minutes against Poland;
- 18 points, 7 rebounds and 5 assists in just 23 minutes against Serbia;
- 34 points and 10 rebounds against the Czech Republic.
"I was just trying to do whatever I need to do to help the team win," the 25-year-old Finn explained, staying humble after a two-hour, four-minute long game against group hosts Czech Republic on Tuesday, after 10,381 fans in the stands had witnessed the damage he can inflict.
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Unfazed by his trade to the Utah Jazz, Markkanen repeated one phrase four times during his post-game media availability.
"Stay in the moment."
This has been coach Lassi Tuovi's mantra since day one of training camp. There is a lot going on in this event, every single team here plays a different brand of basketball and each one will have that momentum swing that could be crucial. Hence, stay in the moment. Be calm, give your best version to the team. First to Finland, then to the Jazz.
"You cannot imagine how many positive things coach Hanno Mottola is telling him about Utah every day," coach Tuovi revealed some of the team talks after the trade was announced, prompting a quick response by Markkanen.
"I mean... I almost went there to college, so... I've been there," he smiled.
Markkanen's NBA career averages of 15.4 points and 6.8 rebounds per game may not be as mind-blowing as those of other European NBA stars who are also competing at this EuroBasket but, when you see him play in person, there is no doubt in your mind that he is a star.
"It's fun to watch what kinds of things a 2.13m guy can do on the court. He moves well, he plays defense, he does everything. Sometimes, even we on the court watch him a little bit too much. We should move, make his game easier. It's just amazing what kind of talent he is and what he can do," Salin said.
"It's complicated sometimes, because you don't wanna rush it. We need to find him all the time, but we need to find the others, too, especially Sasu. We need to be calm," Tuovi described what it's like to coach a guy who gets 30-point double-doubles with ease.
"On the other hand, Lauri is an easy one (to coach). Low ego. Unselfish. He doesn't force it if you don't give him the ball. It's a pleasure, it's an honor, but it's sometimes difficult."
When they have him putting up numbers, Sasu Salin adding five threes and 23 points, and the whole team combining for 15-of-32 from deep, Finland are a tough nugget in this FIBA EuroBasket.
"[Against Serbia] it wasn't us. We didn't play our best basketball, Serbia did a really good job of getting us out of our system. Coach keeps talking about staying in the moment. We knew it's a long tournament and it was another opportunity for us [against Czech Republic], we came in really motivated, and we knew what we had to do to be able to get the job done," Markkanen explained the mental preparation.
They got the first part of the job done. Susijengi are through to the Round of 16, their 5,000 fans will follow them to Berlin, and Markkanen and his teammates don't even care who will be on the other side of an elimination game, as long as they do their part.
"We're not taking anybody lightly," he added.
Sounds exactly like a call of duty.