TNT’s Charles Barkley talks Lauri Markkanen, Jazz and the All-Star Game

The crew of “Inside the NBA on TNT” took over The Complex in downtown Salt Lake City and live-streamed their show Thursday night from the home of the 2023 All-Star Weekend.

Before they went on the air, Charles Barkley, Kenny “The Jet” Smith, and Shaquille O’Neal met with reporters to discuss the NBA, upcoming All-Star events, Salt Lake City, the Utah Jazz, and of course, the All-Star to speak starter Lauri Markkanen and rising jazz star Walker Kessler.

When asked if Markkanen deserved to be an All-Star, Barkley and Smith didn’t hesitate for a second.

“(Expletive) yes!” Barkley said emphatically, noting that Markkanen was an easy pick. “I said that about two months ago. He deserves to be included in the all-star team. He was fabulous.”

O’Neal added the list of people who see shades of Dirk Nowitzki in Markkanen’s game, and Smith went on to say that he believes this is just the first of many all-star appearances for Markkanen. Smith also credited Will Hardy and the Jazz coaching staff for improving Markkanen’s game.

“He’s a perennial All-Star,” Smith said. “He found his game…you could see lightning in various places but someone wasn’t able to get it out of him and allow him to be a part of it at any moment. And that’s what the coaching staff found out here. He’s a perpetual All-Star.”

The TNT crew was pretty much in agreement that the Jazz aren’t far from being a competitive team, and were impressed by Hardy in his first year as head coach. Smith said the Jazz are just a guy or two away from making the top 4 in the Western Conference and they’re on the right track.

Barkley said that being a “small market” in the assets the Jazz have, Utah doesn’t really matter and made sure the majority of NBA cities aren’t considered target cities. With the foundation the Jazz have, they just need to focus on making good decisions with the roster and drafting when using picks.

“Let’s be realistic,” Barkley said. “There are very few places people want to go. I mean nobody ever said – no disrespect and you say Utah – I don’t remember people saying let me go to San Antonio or Indiana or Sacramento. So you just have to draw really well. And you all have 102 draft picks.”

Barkley said what he’s looking forward to most this weekend is a party he and former jazzman Karl Malone are throwing on Friday night. Smith said that while he’s looking forward to all of the weekend’s celebrations, during All-Star Weekend he’s always in awe of the amount of NBA greatness that’s in one place all at once.

“It’s like watching my trading cards run around town,” Smith said. “There’s the game itself, of course. But just watching these guys move and Dr. J and Steph Curry, see Shaq. Right now Utah is all about card collecting.”