It’s trade deadline week, and though the front office has changed the general Bulls-ness remains: use every opportunity to needlessly piss off their fans by projecting extremely little action and initiative.
It’s possible that the Bulls are telegraphing what they’re doing, and we just don’t want to hear it: they like their guys. Though not enough to double-down and give themselves the best chance of success, just enough to see what they have to continue to thoroughly evaluate to...oh wait, there’s a trade deadline that doesn’t operate on Arturas Karnisovas’s timetable?
With a relative absence of information and historical success, we should expect the worst. But we can still speculate on a better path. Jamal Collier of ESPN.com (they cover the Bulls, but at a AAA level, which is appropriate honestly) offers this glimmer of hope:
Alex Caruso has drawn interest from other teams and Chicago has been open to listening to offers on the reserve guard, a league source told ESPN, but the Bulls would likely have to be blown away by a deal to trade perhaps their most important defensive player.
It’s likely the best time to trade Caruso, as this season’s failure does present an opportunity. The Bulls, as we (but perhaps not the front office) know, are going nowhere this season. And Alex Caruso is a luxury on a going-nowhere team that would be far more valuable on a playoff one.
Old friend Stephen Noh went into why every playoff team (AK: “we’re a playoff team” BaB: “no”) should be targeting Caruso. You can click over to there for the juicy clips of him crashing into people and the floor to win possessions.
As Stephen said well on the Cash Considerations podcast, that skill is somewhat wasted here, as Caruso is more of a ‘ceiling-raiser’ than a ‘floor-raiser’, and the Bulls are in, like, a half-basement at the moment. Early in the season it was confounding to me that Caruso wasn’t starting and playing heavy minutes while every result was something like “Bulls lose by 9, Caruso a +14 in 25 minutes).
Caruso had since been put in the starting lineup, but it just confirmed his limitations. Caruso is more effective in short bursts, and it keeps him healthier. Not completely healthy, as even if Caruso is out there for 5 minutes he’s going to spend at least 10% of that on the ground, and indeed he’s been out the last couple games due to a foot sprain.
Caruso should come back soon, but what are the Bulls load-managing him for? And Stephen also pointed out the likelihood that Caruso’s playing style and skills will probably not age well. This season is toast, and next year will be his age-29 season.
On the other hand, if an actual-contender trades for Caruso now, they get this year’s playoffs and possibly the following two. That should be extremely valuable. It was perhaps AKME’s best move to ink Caruso to this 4-year mid-level contract, and they can cash in.
I don’t think it’s unreasonable to speculate that Caruso the player is worth a first-round pick, and Caruso the contract is worth another. With perhaps a rookie-contract player involved as a replacement or even in addition to picks. KC Johnson has mentioned suitors in New York and Golden State, so you can look at these younger, under-contract players like Immanuel Quickley, Moses Moody, or James Weisman. There’s rumors that the Denver Nuggets are willing to deal Bones Hyland in a win-now acquisition. How about back-to-back 40 point scorer Cam Thomas from the Nets?
An Alex Caruso trade, like making a decision on Nikola Vucevic before the deadline (it’s a deadline, AK!), is not even a blow-up-my-precious-continuity-vision move. It’s a smaller but more tactical transaction that is reliant on timing. It doesn’t change the direction of the team, because the direction is the play-in with or without Caruso’s 20 minutes per every-other-game. But it’s an opportunity to sell high and replenish the asset base, plus perhaps next year’s rotation, and recognizing standing in place is a worse option.