LeBron James and Alex Caruso carried unexpected chemistry as Lakers. Caruso was one of the most important players in the Los Angeles Lakers’ resurgence. The team took a chance on him with the South Bay Lakers. He turned that opportunity into being a championship starter.
As Caruso improved, that meant the competition would notice. Before he became a free agent in the 2021 offseason, the Lakers were locked in with Caruso for a two-year deal worth $5.5 million. Outplaying the contract meant major decisions for the Lakers. As free agency rolled around, those decisions were ultimately made, however, the decision ended Caruso’s tenure with the Lakers.
Caruso ended up signing with the Chicago Bulls during the summer of 2021. The deal was for four years, worth $35.9 million. Caruso had a heavy interest in returning to the Lakers, but there were front offices concerns. Tax penalties were at the top of that list of concerns.
Apparently, LeBron wanted Jeanie Buss and the Lakers to be fine with the extra money that was going to be needed to sign Caruso, as Marc Stein reported the following in his latest substack (requires a paid subscription to view):
“LeBron James was a strong advocate for the trade that brought Westbrook to Hollywood and thus has to wear his considerable slice of culpability for how poorly things are working out. Yet one source did point out at least one counter on James’ behalf, noting that he was also one of the organization’s staunchest Alex Caruso fans and badly wanted the Lakers to re-sign the defensive-minded guard. The Lakers, despite all of their considerable revenue streams, refused to offer a contract on par with the four-year, $37 million deal Caruso landed from Chicago because of the luxury-tax implications.”
Of all of their departures, Caruso could be pegged as the most detrimental for the Lakers. His defense, transition ability, and energy would look like gold on this team. He was one of the few homegrown talents that the team had on their roster since rebuilding. Had they been able to retain him, there’s a chance they could have had a better chance to right this ship that’s nearly going underwater.
Now, the Lakers are stuck trying to find a fraction of Caruso’s talent for a cost that they cannot afford to pay.