As the Los Angeles Lakers face early-season struggles with defense, the questions are already swirling about if they regret moving on from Alex Caruso. Normally, when a player leaves in free agency like Caruso did to the Chicago Bulls, there are a number of factors that are outside of the team’s control.
However, it was clear at the time that this was not a case of Caruso spurning the Lakers to join a new team. Rather, the Lakers appeared to let Caruso walk in a financial decision as signing him to a deal similar to his current contract would have carried a $30 million or so luxury tax bill.
Now that the season has begun and each team is working around their offseason decisions, Caruso confirmed the stories from the summer that the Lakers simply let him walk, via The Old Man and the Three podcast:
“So going into it I really didn’t know what to expect and I really didn’t hear much from any team, including the Lakers, leading up to 6 p.m. Then they called and the Lakers made their offer. It wasn’t an offer I was going to accept, because I was going to be able to get considerably more money from another team.
“Like we just said, I’m a guy that has not had decision-making power, fought for a job, essentially 30 teams told me they didn’t think I was good enough to play in the NBA for two years. I need to get as much money as possible, this is real life we’re talking about, I need to financially secure me and my people.
“And then my agent texted me and said Chicago is interested in signing me… So essentially, we got that offer and went back to L.A. We asked if they could do the same, and they said no. Then we asked for something else that was a little less, and they said no. So I said okay, if that’s what it comes to, then I’m ready to go to Chicago and start the next chapter.”
Hearing this from Caruso is both incredibly disappointing and frustrating with regard to the Lakers front office. They had a chance to not only match, but offer less than other teams to keep Caruso, and they still declined.
The luxury tax bill would have been hefty, of course. But Caruso was an instrumental part of a championship roster and has undeniable on-court chemistry with LeBron James and Anthony Davis. He would have been the perfect defensive complement to Russell Westbrook, while also continuing to provide relatively decent floor spacing.
Later in the podcast, Caruso hinted — without words — that the Lakers’ initial offer to him was less than $15 million over two years. Caruso was correct to decline that offer, as he got more than double that number from Chicago.
Talen Horton-Tucker cleared for full contact
One thing that could soften the blow of losing Caruso would be Talen Horton-Tucker coming back healthy and taking a leap defensively. If he can be the defender that the Lakers have touted him to be, some of the major issues plaguing L.A. right now would go away.
Horton-Tucker’s return from thumb surgery is imminent, as he was cleared for full contact earlier this week.
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