The Chicago Bulls picked up an international W with their 126-108 victory over the Detroit Pistons in Paris, France bringing their record to 21-24. That is a disappointment by preseason standards but these Bulls have now won two straight and five of their last eight games albeit with a three-game skid mixed in.
Far from out of the woods, the Bulls have been a hot topic in the trade rumor mill with several pieces that could help a contender were they to be made available.
Talks of a complete blowout have been subsided, though Joe Cowley of the Chicago Sun-Times notes that, if they return to that downward trend, there isn’t a player on the roster that should feel safe or “untouchable”.
What’s more, the one that could come closest to being safe might come as a surprise.
Bulls Alex Caruso ‘Could Be Untouchhable’
“[Alex] Caruso could be the one untouchable because of how valuable he is defensively and in the plus/minus category,” writes Cowley singling out one of the Bulls’ few legitimate two-way threats before hedging, “but that remains to be seen.”
The 6-foot-4 utility man entered play against the Pistons leading the team in net efficiency differential, per Cleaning The Glass despite averaging just 5.6 points per game. He guards positions 1-through-4 regularly and has even found himself matched up with a few centers along the way.
His only negative last season was that he did not shoot particularly well. This season, however, he has gotten back above 39% from long distance.
Caruso is in the second year of an appealing four-year, $37 million contract.
The final year of that deal is only partially guaranteed for $3 million of the $9 million he is set to make. That, writes NBC Sports Chicago’s K.C. Johnson, could make Caruso — who had just two points but notched four steals versus Detroit — even more appealing on the trade market.
“The defensive-minded guard would be a plug-and-play reserve — and closer — for virtually any contender or team serious about making a playoff push,” says Johnson. “Caruso’s return would likely be a young player and pick because of that contract, his All-Defensive-team-caliber ability to defend at the point of attack and generate deflections and steals, and his playoff experience.”
Johnson mentioned the Golden State Warriors – who appeared to be openly recruiting him at one point – and the New York Knicks as teams to keep an eye on in the sweepstakes.
But the Bulls may feel that plug-and-play ability will be easy to fit in no matter what they do.
“From what I’ve heard from executives, Patrick Williams and Alex Caruso are not for sale right now in Chicago,” Michael Scotto reported during the ‘HoopsHype Podcast’ on January 11.”
Perhaps Williams being left out of Cowley’s mention means something. The doubling down on Caruso’s availability likely means more.
Alex Caruso: ‘Winning Solves Everything’
“I don’t think anybody’s motivation is don’t get guys traded or don’t make moves,” Caruso said putting the emphasis on the players. “I think it’s more let’s play to our potential and be the team we’re capable of being…Step up and win games. Professional sports, you win games, and everything goes away. Winning solves everything. You gotta show up and do your job.’’
To Caruso’s point, the Bulls have already experienced winning as a salve taking three straight right before their three-game slide. It came amid an 8-3 stretch from December 20 to January 7 which featured another three-game streak and put an end to a four-game skid.
This roller coaster season has led to some difficult conversations for the Bulls on whether or not to start trading pieces.
But executive vice president of basketball operations Arturas Karnisovas practices patience.
Holding off on doing anything – even speaking publicly – allowed time for this group to work through some chemistry issues. Even if it was not entirely by choice with, as a rival exec notes, he is handcuffed by ownership’s aversion to the luxury tax, this could turn out to be a feather in his cap if they can keep up their solid play.