The biggest move made by Los Angeles Lakers vice president of basketball operations Rob Pelinka last offseason undeniably was the trade that brought in Anthony Davis.
But Pelinka also made a number of other moves to fill out the roster and one of the most important was re-signing Alex Caruso. He had become a cult hero over the previous two seasons while playing on a two-way contract and showed that he was deserving of a regular contract.
Though Caruso had offers from other teams, he chose to remain with the Lakers. He played a key role during the regular season and then proved to be key in their Lakers’ quest for an NBA championship inside the Orlando bubble.
Pelinka was with the Lakers in Orlando and he recently shared details about how impressive Caruso’s play was in the early going, via Spectrum SportsNet:
“One of the things I liked about the early [scrimmage] games before they had some of the noise and stuff they’re piping in, you could hear everything from the bench. When LeBron is out there cheering for A.C. as the ‘GOAT,’ you’re like, ‘Wow. This is something real. That’s his nickname.’ They call him ‘GOAT,’ they call Dion since he’s from Philly, sometimes it’s ‘Philly Cheese’ sometimes it’s ‘Cheese.’ These guys are having funs with the nicknames.
But none of the nicknames and online cult status would matter if Caruso couldn’t deliver on the court and he did that time and time again this season. Pelinka loves the player that Caruso has turned into and correctly predicted he would be important for the Lakers in the playoffs:
“A.C., the thing about him is he’s done it with work and his toughness. The way he plays in the games is the way he competes in practice. He’s turned into a floor leader and general with the way he plays, and I think he’s going to be a big part of this playoff run we’re going to find ourselves in.”
Even without the losses of Avery Bradley and Rajon Rondo, there was an expectation that Caruso would factor prominently in the team’s plans. He wound up receiving an expanded role that still held true even after Rondo returned from thumb surgery.
Caruso caps off playoffs with start
After serving as one of the main contributors off the bench, Caruso was moved into the starting lineup for Game 6 of the NBA Finals. Lakers head coach Frank Vogel wanted more of a speedy and versatile lineup to start, and the change wound up paying off in spades.
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