“We had a little bit of an up and down year,” Caruso told Bill DiFilippo of Dime. “We beat some of the really good teams in the league, and then dropped a couple contests to teams that you mark down as wins on the schedule when you’re looking at it. And I think that’s probably what just held us back a little was just a little inconsistency.”
Chicago flipped the script from their 2021-22 campaign, which saw them finish as the six-seed in the Eastern Conference after sitting atop it for much of the year thanks in large part to an 8-15 finish to the campaign.
This season, they were able to close stronger than expected given how the season had gone.
But they struggled on the road going 22-19 at home in the United Center but 18-23 in all other venues combined. They struggled especially with sub-.500 teams going 17-15 this year compared to 23-10 last season which helped to buoy them amid their previous struggles with the upper echelon of the NBA.
Chicago fell short of their goal, getting bounced in the second round of the Play-In Tournament.
“It’s tough because we know what we were capable of when we played our best, and that’s kind of the sour taste in your mouth as you go home the middle of April rather than playing into May. So obviously, a little underwhelming and disappointing year for us, just given what we expected to be at. But I thought at certain points, we played really, really good basketball.”
That relatively strong finished – 14-9 down the stretch – was something that Bulls executive vice president of basketball operations Arturas Karnisovas hung his hat on during his end-of-season press conference.
He also eluded to giving this current group even more time which bodes well for Caruso’s prospects in Chicago.
Alex Caruso’s Value to Chicago
“I thought I had a pretty solid year,” Caruso told DiFilipo. “I thought I shot the ball, I think I might have had a career-high free throw percentage, field goal percentage, shot the three at league average, if not a little better. And then obviously, everybody knows defensively what I’m capable of and how I operate on that end. And I thought I did a good job of managing that throughout the year. So individually, I felt really, really good about my year, just obviously wish we could still be playing basketball.”
To Caruso’s point, he made a career-high 67 appearances including 37 starts, and shot 80.8% from the free throw line this past season all of which are the best marks of his career.
Caruso, 29, is one of the league’s best bargains considering he does so much of the key dirty work every team needs. He’s heading into the third year of a four-year, $36.9 million pact worth $9.4 million next season and only partially guaranteed for $3 million of the $9.8 million he is set to make in the final year.
There were several teams interested in him at the trade deadline but the Bulls held firm.
Affinity for Current Roster Limits Bulls’ Upside
For as bullish as Caruso is on his team’s outlook, the front office’s reluctance to pivot off the current group would seem to limit how much improvement can truly be expected.
On top of that, there is a belief that ownership is asserting itself.
“It is a tough position they are in because they need to do something,” a rival executive tells Heavy Sports NBA insider Sean Deveney. “They can’t add salary, they can’t go over the tax,” the exec tells Deveney. “Ownership will not let them do that. That leaves them two choices – play it out with what you have this year or tear it all down completely.”