The Chicago Bulls‘ 4-7 start has led to offseason trade rumors bleeding into the regular season, particularly with Zach LaVine. But, if the Bulls want to get the most bang for their trade buck, Alex Caruso could bring in the best haul.
“Alex Caruso may be the most intriguing player of the bunch in terms of his value and outlook,” wrote Yossi Gozlan of HoopsHype on November 13. “He may have the most trade value of the group thanks to his elite defense at his position and his relatively small annual salary. If Marcus Smart could go for two first-round picks projected in the twenties, then so should Caruso.”
Caruso and Smart are both 29 years old but have taken different paths to prominence.
Smart was the No. 6 overall pick in 2014, spending his first nine seasons with the Boston Celtics earning three All-Defensive Team selections and Defensive Player of the Year in 2021-22.
Caruso is a former undrafted free agent who earned his first All-Defensive Team selection after last season. And, what he lacks in individual hardware compared to Smart, he makes up for with the championship he helped bring to the Los Angeles Lakers in 2020.
Suns’ Kevin Durant: Alex Caruso a ‘Phenomenal Player’
“He’s a phenomenal player,” Phoenix Suns star Kevin Durant said via Darnell Mayberry of The Athletic on November 8. “I don’t even want to call him a role player. But just a guy that you can plug with any lineup and he’s going to make the right reads, the right plays on the defensive and offensive side. And the Bulls are lucky to have him.”
Boston traded Smart to the Memphis Grizzlies as part of a three-team deal with the Washington Wizards this past offseason. One of the picks they received was in the form of rights to guard Marcus Sasser, the No. 25 overall pick in this year’s draft who they traded to the Detroit Pistons.
The Celtics also got a 2024 first-round pick from Memphis.
“[Caruso]’s $9.5 million salary is an easy match for any team, he is due for a substantial raise after next season,” Gozlan continued. “What players like Derrick White and De’Anthony Melton get on their next contracts could set the floor for Caruso.”
Smart is in the second year of a four-year, $76.5 million contract. Caruso is in the second year of a three-year, $36.9 million contract but could earn a lot more after next season. White is in the third year of a four-year, $70 million contract. Melton is in the final year of a four-year, $34.6 million pact.
Chicago has already shown a hesitance to utilize Caruso in the starting lineup.
Head coach Billy Donovan has cited the guard’s all-out playing style leading to durability issues in his career.
Caruso is coming off a career-high 67 appearances last season but has only cracked the 60-game barrier one other time in his career. Perhaps that weighs into the Bulls’ decision with the standout defender due for a new contract.
Alex Caruso ‘Coveted’ on Trade Market
Any team interested in acquiring Caruso figures to face some stiff competition from other contenders, as one Eastern Conference executive told Heavy Sports’ Sean Deveney.
“‘Coveted’ is a good word for him. If you want to make a trade tomorrow they could trade Alex Caruso,” the executive said, per Deveney on November 7. “Half the teams in the league would be there with an offer. There’s a lot of teams monitoring that situation and they’re looking at Caruso more than anyone on that roster.”
The Bulls’ other top players all come with questions.
DeMar DeRozan is in the final year of a three-year, $81.9 million contract. But how much another team would give up to acquire him in his age-34 season is unclear. Talks of a contract extension have gone quiet too.
Center Nikola Vucevic just re-signed on a three-year, $60 million contract this offseason. Bulls general manager Marc Eversley said the front office made it a priority to bring Vucevic back in free agency. But the deal was regarded as an overpay with the Bulls simply not wanting to look bad for surrendering so much to acquire Vucevic.