It's safe to say the Chicago Bulls will move Zach LaVine first if they finally decide to blow up a team that's been going nowhere fast for the better part of two seasons. Should that long-awaited ultimately come to pass, don't be surprised if Alex Caruso is the next impact player on his way out of Chicago—and likely to a team with legitimate title aspirations in 2023-24.
The Philadelphia 76ers certainly fit that description amid Tyrese Maxey's ongoing rise to stardom and first-year coach Nick Nurse implementing the key pieces the Sixers received from the LA Clippers in exchange for James Harden. Does Philadelphia make sense as a potential Caruso destination, especially with Chicago's reported sky-high asking price in mind? Oddsmakers certainly seem to think so.
The Sixers are currently +250 to land Caruso, according to Bovada, the best odds of any potential suitor. Caruso's former team, the Los Angeles Lakers, come in second at +300, while the Milwaukee Bucks and Golden State Warriors round at the top-four at +450 each. The Los Angeles Clippers, Dallas Mavericks and Atlanta Hawks are +650 to trade for the Bulls' defensive maven, and the defending-champion Denver Nuggets come in at +800, lowest among the teams listed by Bovada.
Alex Caruso's fit with Sixers
Caruso is in midst of a career season after making Second Team All-Defense for the first time in his career a year ago. He remains one of the most disruptive perimeter defenders in basketball, capable of guarding up and down the lineup while making possession-by-possession impact both on the ball and as a helper.
Chicago's defensive rating drops 2.2 points when he's on the floor, per Cleaning the Glass, mostly the result of the Bulls forcing far more turnovers with him in the lineup. Caruso ranks third in the league with 3.5 deflections per game despite playing just 24.2 minutes, boasts a top-10 steal percentage and is third among guards in defensive EPM, per DunksandThrees.
The 29-year-old is still limited offensively, at his best shouldering low usage while functioning as a play finisher and connector in the open floor and halfcourt. But Caruso has taken major strides on that end in the season's early going, shooting 50% from deep on career-high volume while converting nearly 70% of his twos—a gaudy number for even a low-usage guard. Though his scorching 74.4 true shooting percentage is bound to cool off it's also an indication of just how comfortable Caruso has grown picking his spots as a scorer while continuing to keep his team's offensive attack humming.
Caruso, basically, is the type of third guard every contending team wants. The Bulls are reportedly demanding multiple first-round picks to part with him, a price that seems high given Caruso's inability to play major minutes and ingrained offensive limitations. Those realities would be easier for Philadelphia to manage than other contenders, though. The Sixers' depth improved immensely after trading Harden, and they hardly need any trade reinforcement to soak up usage with Embiid and Maxey serving as the alpha and omega of Nurse's offense.
The biggest potential roadblock to Philly trading for Caruso? Whether Daryl Morey thinks he can best address roster deficiencies in pursuit of a title by chasing a forward with his team's trade assets instead. De'Anthony Melton is cut from the same basic positional and stylistic fabric as Caruso, and the same goes for Jaden Springer, who's impressed of late while garnering consistent time off the bench with Kelly Oubre Jr. still recovering from injuries sustained in a hit-and-run.
Caruso is better than Melton, but probably wouldn't start for the Sixers. Does Nurse really want to play a three-guard lineup featuring Maxey, Melton and Caruso extended minutes in the playoffs? That configuration would thrive against some opponents, but size on the wing always looms especially large on the game's biggest stages. There's a case to be made the Sixers' assets would be better off used to acquire an upgrade at forward.
Expect to hear buzz about Caruso and Philadelphia until his current situation is settled by trade or the deadline coming and going with him still in Chicago. His defensive playmaking and versatility, offensive profile and partially-guaranteed contract for 2024-25 definitely make Caruso a desirable trade target for the Sixers. It might just be a matter of how high the bidding war to bring him in goes, and whether Morey believes meeting that price is worth adding another guard to the mix at the expense of a similarly impactful, bigger player on the wing.