And while that other half, Alex Caruso, is still under contract, an extension may be in order.
“With the uncertainty surrounding Ball’s health, having Caruso around for a few more years feels crucial,” posed Andy Bailey of Bleacher Report in an article from June 13 outlining a ‘to-do’ list for every team.
Caruso, 29, is coming off his first All-Defensive Team selection, serving as a bright spot for the 40-42 Bulls. A former championship Los Angeles Laker, Caruso is one of the Bulls’ few consistent performers this season and, while he averaged just 5.6 points per game, he posted a career-best 58.8% true shooting.
The 6-foot-5 veteran also had a bounceback season from beyond the arc, knocking down 36.4% of his threes in 2022-23 after shooting just 33.3% in 2021-22.
And his reputation on defense precedes him.
“Given the way he can defend either guard position, Alex Caruso’s sub-$10 million salary is definitely below market,” writes Bailey. “But he still has a small enough offensive role that Chicago might be able to extend him for less than the three years and $53.2 million for which he’s eligible.”
Caruso is heading into the third year of a four-year, $36.9 million contract. He has dealt with injuries including a foot injury this past season. But he also made a career-high 67 appearances in 2022-23.
Bulls executive vice president of basketball operations Arturas Karnisovas put a high price tag on Caruso at the trade deadline, perhaps an extension is already something he’s imagined.
Bulls Backcourt Outlook
The Bulls head into this offseason needing to decide on unrestricted free agent Nikola Vucevic and restricted free agent guards Ayo Dosunmu and Coby White, the latter of whom they are said to be “all in” on keeping.
There is some belief the Bulls will have to choose between one of those two guards while talks have already begun with Vucevic regarding a new contract.
If that is how it all plays out, Caruso would complement White’s style well.
The fit next to Dosunmu is a little more clunky as neither would be considered a marksman by any stretch but they would be the defensive element that Caruso and Ball had during the 2020-21 season. Chicago’s issue there is that, even if they bring Dosunmu back, he did not show enough to warrant a starting spot which has to be atop the Bulls’ wishlist this summer.
They can go over the cap to reign their free agents but it is a question of how far they want to go with the luxury tax looming as a boogeyman (when factoring in a new deal for Vucevic and one of Dosunmu and White) over this organization that has only paid into it once in franchise history.
Alex Caruso’ Fit Next to Coby White
The Bulls are expected to bring most if not all of the same group back next season. Patrick Beverley, who signed after the All-Star break, could be among them. But White has already made it known that he still wants to be a starting point guard.
Asked if White had shown enough to earn another shot at winning the job next season, head coach Billy Donovan agreed White is more equipped now than before.
There is reason to believe a Caruso-White backcourt can work.
The Bulls posted a plus-11.7 net rating with those two in the backcourt, ranking in the 97th percentile, and a plus-24.2 net rating (94th percentile) when paired with Chicago’s big three, albeit in just over 100 possessions.
White made tremendous strides in the non-shooting aspects of his game even if that, which was once a strength, became a bit of a liability at times. He still knocked down 37.2% of his threes and also shot a career-best mark from the floor, connecting on 44.3% of his overall looks which were down this season compared to last.