The Los Angeles Lakers have had a chaotic offseason so far. They traded for Russell Westbrook to get a third star next to LeBron James and Anthony Davis. In the process they lost most of their role players from their championship team. One player they could have retained was Alex Caruso but, unfortunately, the fan favorite guard has signed a four-year deal with the Chicago Bulls where he will join former Lakers teammate Lonzo Ball in the backcourt.
According to The Athletic’s Sam Amick, Caruso and his camp gave the Lakers an opportunity to make a counter offer once they had one from the Bulls but the Lakers declined.
Good god this is depressing. pic.twitter.com/EdjcdHBGb3
— Jason Timpf (@_JasonLT) August 3, 2021
It’s a disappointing decision that reeks of a team trying to limit their spending to save money for their billionaire owners.
Caruso was not just a fan favorite; he was a crucial part of what made the Lakers’ championship team special. Even in limited minutes, he routinely had a major impact in games. His growth from a G-League player to one who started in the clinching game of the NBA Finals was remarkable and a shining light for the organization’s scouting and development programs.
The Lakers are already limited in their spending, only able to pay free agents the veteran minimum or taxpayer midlevel exception. But they could retain Caruso at whatever cost which makes their decision to not even bother with a fight to keep the guard at a very reasonable number all the more disappointing. That they were willing to dip into a large luxury tax payment in order to acquire Westbrook but not to increase the bill to keep their best guard defender is questionable at best. Even if they did not value Caruso at that number – which I would still thoroughly disagree with – it’s clear that other teams did; at the very least he would have a very tradeable contract.
The Lakers have LeBron James in the twilight of his career. They have probably the best second-best player in the league in Anthony Davis. They now have another aging superstar in Russell Westbrook. Their championship window is right now. If the Buss family is not willing to spend to maximize that window – especially considering how little they have had to spend in the last eight years – then when will they? When can fans expect one of the most profitable sports teams in the world to put their money on the table and go all in to win more titles?
Every player on the Lakers roster currently is over the age of 30 except for Davis (although Talen Horton-Tucker is expected to re-sign). Caruso was a perfect player to bridge that gap, someone who had the fitness and ability to make up for the occasional lethargy of older teammates. It’s probably safe to say he’s a better player than just about anyone who will come to LA on a minimum or taxpayer midlevel contract. When the initial signings for the Lakers have been Wayne Ellington, Trevor Ariza, Kent Bazemore, and Dwight Howard (no offense to any of these guys), it’s pretty clear that the options are dwindling.
Obviously, we can’t judge the Lakers’ offseason without seeing how it ends. For all we know, their sheer starpower alone can be enough to win them a championship. And while Alex Caruso may not be the sole difference between a title or another early playoff exit, it’s those types of decisions around the margins that can snowball and have bigger effects down the road. The Lakers were unilaterally praised for going big last summer in their bid to repeat; it’s a shame that a billionaire’s pockets may prevent them from doing it this time around.