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Deal or no deal? Caruso fits 76ers' short- and long-term plans

Julian Catalfo / theScore

Welcome to Deal or no deal?, our annual trade-season series ahead of the NBA's Feb. 8 deadline. Its purpose is to find sensible trade partners, both from a team-to-team and team-to-player perspective. The first entry in this year's series explored the Pascal Siakam trade conundrum (before the Raptors traded OG Anunoby). Next up, finding a good deal for the Chicago Bulls' Alex Caruso.

As a reminder, these aren't necessarily trades that have been reported or speculated about, but rather trade scenarios we've come up with, and ones we believe all parties involved should look into.

Proposed trade

76ers receive: Alex Caruso, Andre Drummond
Bulls receive: Jaden Springer, Robert Covington, 2026 1st-round pick (least favorable of OKC/LAC/HOU picks), 2030 1st-round pick

Chicago reportedly sought multiple first-round picks for Caruso leading up to the 2023 deadline. Though there's one less year remaining on his phenomenally team-friendly contract, the veteran guard's value might be even higher now.

With Anunoby off the board, Caruso will likely be the best defensive player - and arguably the most plug-and-play star - on the trade market this winter. And it's impossible to overstate how advantageous his contract would be to the club that acquired him. Caruso's under team control for next season on a (partially guaranteed) salary of only $9.89 million, which accounts for less than 7% of next year's projected cap. That's a stunning bargain for such an impactful player, and it helps explain why multiple first-rounders and a promising youngster might be the going rate for someone who's never averaged 10 points per game.

The 21-year-old Springer is very much a project on the offensive end, but he brings tremendous defensive upside, and the Bulls should pivot to a rebuilding phase that allows them to take fliers on promising but unproven talents. Sixers fans may cringe at the sight of Springer's name in the proposed deal, but Philadelphia's in win-now mode and won't have a consistent rotation role for the youngster any time soon.

Covington, meanwhile, merely acts as salary filler to facilitate the transaction. Ditto for Drummond, though the veteran big man could still bring elite rebounding and solid rim-protection in a limited role behind Joel Embiid as part of a Sixers reunion. Perhaps Philadelphia could also jettison Patrick Beverley in a corresponding move.

After acquiring draft capital in the November blockbuster that sent James Harden to Los Angeles, the 76ers have four first-rounders to dangle in trade talks. In addition to the two picks listed in the proposal above, Philadelphia owns the Clippers' 2028 first-rounder and swap rights with the Clippers in 2029. Team president Daryl Morey presumably prefers to hang on to those far-off Clippers selections, but if substituting one of those for one of the picks I listed is necessary to complete a deal, the Sixers should oblige.

Jeff Haynes / NBA / Getty Images

Though De'Anthony Melton - and, to a lesser extent, Beverley - have given the Sixers a sample of what Caruso provides, Caruso operates on another level as a 3-and-D guard with some off-the-dribble creation juice. He's one of the very best on-ball perimeter defenders. He can guard up in size and position, and he wipes out passing lanes with the best of them. He's among maybe a handful of guards on the planet who are capable of anchoring a defense. Pairing him with Embiid would give the Sixers an almost unfair foundation on that end of the court.

On offense, Caruso is a no-nonsense fit who understands his role, with the ability to play off a lead guard like Tyrese Maxey or prop up bench lineups. Whether on the ball or off, he knows when to move it and when to keep it or attack. Caruso can get to the rim, but his 3-point shooting is what tips the scales. Among 160 qualified shooters this season, Caruso's 3-point percentage (40.9%) ranks 34th, which only becomes more impressive when you consider that he's been uncharacteristically cold from the corners (30% vs. 36.6% for his career).

As a top-five team on both ends of the court - buoyed by the reigning MVP and an ascendant secondary star in Maxey - the Sixers might not need another star acquisition to win the franchise's first championship since 1983. Adding a player of Caruso's two-way caliber without sacrificing any significant rotation players could be enough to finally put Embiid's team over the top. The fact that Caruso's under contract for next season rather than just a rental makes it an even sweeter deal.

Thanks to Caruso's paltry 2024-25 salary, Philadelphia could add the dynamic guard without sacrificing the team's maximum salary-cap space. In theory, the Sixers could trade for Caruso now, still sign a max-level star and add quality depth during the offseason, and then re-sign Maxey using Bird rights, cementing a contending-level core through the remainder of Embiid's prime (even if Caruso departs in 2025 free agency).

If the Sixers don't oblige, Sacramento would be a perfect landing spot. Could the Kings get a deal done using a package built around Davion Mitchell, Chris Duarte, a 2028 first-round pick, and Portland's 2025 second-rounder?

The Pacers, Mavericks, and a Lakers reunion make sense too. The Bucks would also be a snug fit if they had any draft capital to offer; Milwaukee can't trade a first-rounder outright until 2031 picks become available after this year's draft, and I doubt Chicago has much interest in the least favorable of picks between Milwaukee and New Orleans in 2024 or 2026. Could the Bucks get in the mix using expiring salary filler, youngster Andre Jackson Jr., and the least favorable of picks between Milwaukee and Portland in 2028 and 2030?

In any event, there should be no shortage of suitors for Caruso, and no reason for the Bulls to lower their price. So, Caruso and Drummond for Springer, Covington, and two first-rounders: deal or no deal?

Joseph Casciaro is theScore's senior content producer.

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