Every team in the NBA could use a player like Alex Caruso. And many of them have the assets to make a deal for him. That should drive competition for one of the best role players in the league.
Caruso is arguably the best perimeter defender in the NBA. He was recognized as such by being named to the All-Defensive First Team last season. He was the no. 2 defender in the league based on my own top 100 rankings due to his versatility, lockdown one-on-one ability, communication, and ridiculously high feel.
That defensive skill, along with solid career 37 percent shooting from deep (albeit on low volume) and a reasonable $9.5 million salary this season along with a partially guaranteed $9.9 million next year makes Caruso an easy fit and an extremely valuable player.
Caruso has been in the rumor mill for a while now due to the Bulls’ mediocrity. Jake Fischer of Yahoo Sports had mentioned rumblings of the Bulls seeking two future first-round picks for Caruso on his podcast during last year’s trade deadline.
With the Bulls sinking and Zach LaVine purportedly available for trade, Caruso is the player who could end up getting moved and shifting the landscape of the league more than his more heralded teammate.
Caruso’s not a star, but he is that good of a defender. Here are the most likely landing spots for Caruso, and what teams have to offer for him.
Alex Caruso trade destinations
Why it makes sense
The Sixers received two draft picks and a ton of expiring salary back in the James Harden trade with the idea that they could use them to get a star player. They could go for a guy like Zach LaVine, but Caruso would make more sense.
The Sixers have shown that they are already a really good team. And they could add another great player like OG Anunoby in free agency this summer if they keep their books relatively clean. They’re one of very few (if any) good teams with projected cap space to add a max guy this summer. Caruso’s reasonable salary would allow them to keep their options open.
Caruso would also fit in very nicely next to Tyrese Maxey. He could take the tougher assignments, leaving Maxey to carry the offensive burden. Caruso and Joel Embiid would be a killer defensive tandem, boosting what is already a solid no. 10 defense in the league.
The Sixers have a couple of expiring contracts that could serve as salary matching for the Bulls. Furkan Korkmaz is leading the league in unfulfilled trade demands and has never missed a shot inside the United Center. His $5.3 million number could be combined with Danuel House’s expiring $4.3 million in order to get to Caruso’s number.
The Bulls would want the Clippers’ 2028 unprotected first-round pick that they received as part of the James Harden trade. All of their stars will have aged out of their roster, so that pick has awesome upside to be near the top of the draft.
The Sixers also have a 2026 pick to trade that is heavily protected and will likely end up near the back of the first round.
The expiring salary filler of Korkmaz, House, and that 2028 first-round pick would be a nice haul. The Sixers could also throw in one of their talented young players who haven’t been able to break into the rotation such as KJ Martin or Jaden Springer.
Why it makes sense
The Mavs are better than most people expected, at 8-3 after their first 11 games. But their defense is a major problem, as it was last year. They’re ranked 26th through Tuesday’s games and finished 25th last season. Kyrie Irving and Luka Doncic aren’t stopping anyone.
Caruso would for sure bolster that defense and spread the floor for their two offensive stars. The Mavs are starting his former teammate Derrick Jones Jr., and Caruso could fill that role better.
The Mavs have their 2027 first-rounder available for trade, along with two second-rounders in 2025 and 2028.
Josh Green is the player that I’d target if I were the Bulls. He’s already a great defender and a good 3-point shooter. But his poison pill contract status makes him difficult to trade for. Jaden Hardy is another good prospect, but the Mavericks would be very reticent to move him.
Olivier Maxence-Prosper was taken with the 24th pick in this past draft with hopes that he’d be able to contribute immediately as an athletic wing defender. He hasn’t been good enough to earn major minutes, but he’d be a good project for any team to take on.
Caruso and Andre Drummond for Maxi Kleber and Prosper would work salary-wise, along with that 2027 first-round pick. Drummond would also give the Mavericks badly needed big-man depth.
Why it makes sense
The Nuggets have been cruising to a 9-2 record. They look like the team to beat again this year. But their one glaring weakness is their bench. They’re hurting from the departure of Bruce Brown in free agency. They had hoped that young players like Christian Braun, Zeke Nnaji, Julian Strawther, and Peyton Watson could step up. Those four haven’t looked quite ready.
Caruso would give them a turbocharged version of Brown, who was immensely important to that championship run. His point-of-attack defense would lessen the pressure on Nikola Jokic defensively, and he’s an extremely smart off-ball player who would fit into their system of movement and cutting.
The Nuggets don’t have any first-round picks available for trade. They do have five second-rounders and some very good young prospects in Braun, Nnaji, Strawther, and Watson. Those last two names in particular have very high potential and haven’t been able to find consistent minutes in the rotation.
Reggie Jackson, who makes $5 million over each of the next two seasons, would have to be added for salary matching. Jackson has a restriction that prevents him from being traded until Dec. 15. Jackson, one (or both?) of Strawther or Watson, and some second-round picks would be the Nuggets’ best offer.
New York Knicks
Why it makes sense
Tom Thibodeau would be salivating at the idea of adding a defensive player like Caruso. His Knicks are already a top defense this season behind Mitchell Robinson, who should be an All-Defensive candidate himself.
Caruso is impossible to screen and would make it way tougher for opposing teams to target Jalen Brunson on switches. That was the formula for beating the Knicks in the playoffs last season.
The Knicks have been saving up picks to trade for a star. Maybe they could do a smaller move in the meantime. They haven’t been able to come to terms on an extension with promising Sixth Man runner-up Immanuel Quickley. They could include Quickley alongside Isaiah Hartenstein, DaQuan Jeffries, and a pick in exchange for Caruso, Drummond, and Dalen Terry.
Los Angeles Lakers
Why it makes sense
This one is too easy. Caruso remains a legend in Los Angeles. He originally wanted to re-sign there, but the Lakers wouldn’t pony up. Now is their chance to make amends.
The Lakers need to bolster what has been a bad bench unit thus far. D’Angelo Russell and Gabe Vincent have not been good enough for a championship-level team. Caruso could help them get back to the elite defensive level that helped them win their championship in the bubble. He obviously has familiarity and trust with LeBron James and Anthony Davis.
The Lakers have a first-round pick in either 2029 or 2030 that they can trade.
Max Christie was one of the best players in Las Vegas Summer League and had a good preseason but hasn’t been able to crack the rotation. Vincent hasn’t worked out in Los Angeles (he can’t be traded until Dec. 15). Christie, Vincent, and a first-round pick for Alex Caruso and Torrey Craig (also can’t be traded until Dec. 15) would help both teams.
Why it doesn’t make sense
The Bucks have been way worse than expected after acquiring Damian Lillard. Their once-stout defense has slipped all the way down to 24th in the league, largely because of the absence of perimeter studs like Jrue Holiday and Jevon Carter.
There isn’t a better fit for the Bucks than Caruso, and they know it.
“Alex Caruso over there in Chicago would be a great addition to the Bucks and I know a lot of people feel that way”
- @ChrisBHaynes on Alex Caruso and Milwaukee 👀
— NBACentral (@TheDunkCentral) November 14, 2023
The issue is that they have almost zero assets available after making the Lillard deal.
The Bucks have two second-round picks available for trade. That’s it.
In order to make it worth the Bulls’ while, they’d obviously need both of those picks. They’d also need some young prospects back. Former No. 24 pick in the 2022 draft MarJon Beauchamp looks like an interesting player, but the Bucks have needed him in the rotation and his $2.6 million salary doesn’t come close to matching Caruso’s.
Pat Connaughton’s $9.4 million would probably have to be included to match salary, but again he is a key piece of the Bucks’ team.
There isn’t really a trade that works functionally for either team. Although the Bucks badly need Caruso, there isn’t a deal that they can make for him.
Golden State Warriors
Why it doesn’t make sense
The Warriors have been linked to Caruso for a while now. Steve Kerr has been caught on the broadcast saying that he’d love to have Caruso, and there was reported interest at last year’s trade deadline.
This deal made more sense before last year’s deadline when the Warriors traded to reacquire Gary Payton II, who has a lot of overlap with Caruso’s skills. They also already have a pretty good guard rotation with Stephen Curry, Chris Paul, Klay Thompson, Payton, Moses Moody, and promising rookie Brandin Podziemski.
Jonathan Kuminga’s $6 million would probably have to be the player included in this deal to make it worthwhile for the Bulls and get to Caruso’s salary. The Warriors have been high on the former No. 7 pick for years. He is also one of the few players with size on their roster. They’re already an undersized team, and moving him for Caruso wouldn’t make much sense.
There’s not a great framework here that works for the Warriors to shore up their weaknesses. They need more scoring creation, and that is one thing which Caruso doesn’t do well.
Source : ESPN.com