Bulls reluctant to trade their 'greatest success story'

Phoenix Suns v Chicago Bulls
Phoenix Suns v Chicago Bulls / Michael Reaves/GettyImages

The 2023-24 season has only just begun, yet the Chicago Bulls have been no trade rumors this year. After another offseason of relative inactivity, a shockingly poor 5-14 season seems to have forced the front office's hand to begin making moves. Whether they intend to keep the Bulls in a competitive — and I use that word very loosely here — state or initiate a rebuild remains to be seen, but it's becoming increasingly clear that this team needs changes.

Rather than shuffling the deck by exchanging role players like Chicago did in free agency with the additions of Torrey Craig and Jevon Carter, if the Bulls are to make any trades, they need to start from the top. Zach LaVine is undoubtedly the player most likely to be traded on this current roster, as he seems to overstayed his welcome with many fans after nearly seven years spent in Chicago.

As the Bulls' top offensive weapon, LaVine should be able to fetch a sizeable haul in return to spur a potential rebuild in Chicago. That being said, NBA executives, media members, and fans alike all seem to agree that Zach may not be this team's most valuable asset. Instead, that title goes to Alex Caruso, who has won basketball minds over with his elite defensive acumen and on-court IQ, two very desirable traits for potential championship contenders.

Caruso currently finds himself in the midst of his best season yet, averaging career-highs in points and blocks per game, as well career-highs in his field goal and three-point shooting splits. He is once again playing at an All-Defensive First Team level while simultaneously posting a perhaps unsustainably high 68.5% true shooting percentage. To say Caruso's value is at an all-time high would be nothing short of an understatement at this point.

Although Zach LaVine's days in Chicago are numbered, the Bulls seem unwilling to move their most valuable asset.

If the Bulls were to deal away their veteran talent, LaVine, Caruso, DeMar DeRozan, and Nikola Vucevic are the most likely candidates to be shown the door. And yet, it appears Chicago's front office isn't quite ready to pull the trigger on a potential Caruso deal. NBC Sports Chicago's K.C. Johnson provided a little further insight into Caruso's situation in his latest mailbag.

"All I can say is I’ve reported they’ve been hesitant to do so to this point. Now, that obviously can change between now and the Feb. 8 deadline. And there likely will be solid offers for Caruso, who is the perfect over-the-top piece for championship contending teams," said Johnson, "But Caruso is arguably this regime’s greatest success story and he is the perfect embodiment of the culture the franchise wants to project. Trading him would be painful for this management team; I can assure you that."

There's great to be had regarding this line of thinking, and we're unlikely to see a resolution any time soon. One on hand, Caruso has played a large role in Chicago's four-game winning streak and is signed through 2025, granting the Bulls plenty of time to chart the best course of action. On the other, it's unlikely Caruso's value will ever be higher. If the Bulls are to truly embrace a youth movement, they cannot make the same mistake they made with DeRozan by allowing another high-value asset to depreciate.

After Caruso left Friday's game against the Spurs early with an apparent ankle injury, the front office may not have to make that decision just yet. Until then, they can resume preparations to trade away LaVine to the highest bidder.

If the Bulls remain competitive in the time Caruso misses with this injury, I wouldn't be shocked to see him still be on the roster by the year's end. If the young Bulls falter in his absence, however, it might be worth capitalizing on this opportunity to restock Chicago's war chest of future draft picks. No matter what happens, nobody can dispute the signing of Caruso as the current regime's crowning achievement.

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