Give Alex Caruso credit for honesty.
“Anybody would be lying if they said they don’t know about them or are unaware of it,” Caruso said following the Chicago Bulls’ Thursday morning shootaround. “It’s just part of the business.”
Caruso was speaking, of course, about trade rumors. The defensive ace and analytics-lover’s dream has landed in some in advance of the Feb. 9 NBA trade deadline.
Sources have indicated previously to NBC Sports Chicago that multiple teams have inquired about Caruso, although multiple outlets, including NBC Sports Chicago, have reported that the Bulls would have to be blown away by an offer to part with someone so instrumental to their style who also is on a team-friendly contract.
“I fully expect to be here,” Caruso said.
As someone who clawed his way up from the G League and a two-way contract to earn LeBron James’ respect while with the Los Angeles Lakers, Caruso is no stranger to big-market teams and rumors.
“This is probably the first time where I’ve been mainly involved with it,” Caruso said. “But there’s literally nothing I can do. So the more time I spend worrying about it, the less time I have to worry about playing the Hornets or getting ready for our next game or doing the stuff to make sure I’m ready to play basketball.
“I’m just a basketball player who shows up and likes to have fun and play with his teammates.”
Caruso signed a four-year, $37 million contract with the Bulls, though the final season is only guaranteed for $3 million unless he remains on the roster on July 1, 2024. Then it guarantees at $9.9 million, which is still a bargain.
That’s one reason why it’s more likely than not that Caruso remains a Bull.
“I haven’t gotten any indication or any word or anything like that,” Caruso said of the possibility of being dealt. “The coaches still seem to like me. The front office seems to like me. The players like me. As long as things are the way they are, obviously I want to win some basketball games. That’s what I came here to do, what I want to do and what makes me happiest in sports.”
Caruso has been one of the most vocally consistent players opining that the Bulls can be, in words he spoke recently in Paris, “one of the best teams in the league.” That’s why their inconsistency is so frustrating.
“It’s super frustrating just because I’m so competitive and we’ve got competitive guys on the team,” Caruso said. “And I feel like it’s all within our control. It’s stuff we can do to be better.
“There are some questionable calls at the end of games that haven’t gone our way that’s part of it too. Last year, our crunch-time winning percentage was very high, if not one of the highest in the league. This time, it’s almost a flip. The margins are thin. You have to play well enough to take it out of the hands of an official or a lucky bounce on a shot. I think it’s trying to be diligent.
“We’ve got guys that care. It’s just about putting it together.”
The Eastern Conference remains jumbled. The Bulls currently sit 11th, percentage points behind the final play-in spot currently occupied by the Indiana Pacers. They are three games behind the 7th-place New York Knicks, who showed recently what one long win streak can do for a team’s fortunes.
“Outside of those two wacky Cleveland games where there were some (Last) Two Minute Reports that came out that could’ve altered some stuff for us, we were almost on like a (seven)-game win streak at one point. I know we can do it. We’ve beaten the good teams record-wise. The teams that we’re supposed to take care of and win those games are the ones we need to do.”