The Los Angeles Lakers roster looks just about complete after they made a flurry of signings on the first two days of free agency.
Armed with only veteran minimum contracts and the taxpayer mid-level exception, the Lakers managed to bring back several of their former players in Dwight Howard, Trevor Ariza, Wayne Ellington and Kent Bazemore while also adding youth in Malik Monk and Kendrick Nunn.
Given the lack of cap space and trade assets, this is about as good of a bunch as the team could have hoped for, although they did confusingly allow Alex Caruso to walk for nothing. The fan-favorite signing with the Chicago Bulls on a four-year, $37 million contract.
In an appearance on “Brian Windhorst & The Hoop Collective” podcast, Ramona Shelburne of ESPN revealed Caruso was willing to take less money to stay but the Lakers refused to meet him at his price point:
He was willing to go back there at three years and 30 million, Brian. He actually gave them that option, even at the end. It’s less than what he signed for in Chicago, but even that was more than they were willing to pay… That was as far as they were willing to go. The Lakers, they looked at Caruso and said, ‘We can go to 7 million a year. But above that, it gets too cost-prohibitive.’”
With LeBron James, Anthony Davis and Russell Westbrook under lucrative deals, the luxury tax was going to be a real concern for Los Angeles even though Caruso was a pivotal member of the 2020 NBA Championship team. The Lakers instead decided to prioritize re-signing Talen Horton-Tucker to a three-year deal and while that was a smart move, it can be argued that Caruso would have helped them more during the 2021-22 season.
Letting go of someone like Caruso is not the end of the world for the Purple and Gold, who have enough talent and depth to get back to the Finals. But winning on the margins matters and the guard was their best overall perimeter defender last season.
The current roster lacks someone of Caruso’s defensive caliber, though it can be argued that more Davis at the center position can mask any breakdowns.
It is discouraging to see a player like Caruso leave, especially when he was reportedly willing to come back and stay on a discount. Hopefully this does not come to bite the Lakers during the postseason.
Caruso thanks Lakers fans
Caruso got his NBA career started with the Lakers after grinding through the G League and earning a spot on the roster. He became a favorite of the fans in L.A. due to his consistent hustle and ability to make winning plays.
The support he received from the fans was not lost on him as he put out a heartfelt thank you letter after inking his deal with Chicago.
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