Coming fresh off of a championship run with the Los Angeles Lakers, Alex Caruso hopped on a call with Silver Screen and Roll on Thursday to talk about how Tonal has helped him stay in shape while gyms are closed, his experience in the Orlando bubble, how he’s feeling going into the 2020-21 regular season and a whole lot more
What follows is transcript of our discussion, lightly edited for length and clarity. Enjoy!
Silver Screen and Roll: So, you probably just had the strangest offseason of your career outside of last offseason, when you were a free agent. A big part of the offseason in a typical year are those offseason workouts where you try and improve over the long grind of the summer. You didn’t have that long offseason this year, and gyms obviously aren’t accessible right now. How has Tonal played a role in your ability to stay in shape?
Alex Caruso: Yeah, Tonal’s been great for me just because of the ability to get a workout whenever I want. It sits in my garage, takes up no space at all and anytime I want to pop in and get a quick 30-40 minute workout in. I don’t have to worry about leaving the comfort of my own home. I can just pop out there, turn on some music and 30 minutes later I’m right back in my house, doing what I need to do.
What does Alex Caruso listen to when he’s working out at home?
I’ve got to listen to something upbeat. Usually hip-hop. Whatever’s most recent. I think when I was doing my offseason workouts this last little break, getting ready for training camp ... the new 2 Chainz album came out so I was listening to that.
I know it probably doesn’t feel like it, but it’s been two months since you won your first NBA championship. What have these past few months looked like for you both on and off the court?
On the court, I took a little break right right after we won the championship, celebrated a little and also just let my body get back to equilibrium, made sure everything was was back where it needed to be and functioning properly. But, you know, basketball wise, I got right back into it and felt really good about it. It was weird: winning almost gave me more motivation to get back to work than in any other offseason of my career. It’s really an addicting feeling. And then off the court, man, I’ve just been trying to stay low-key, trying to try to just live my daily life, get by as I can, and get ready for the new season.
Your teammate Kentavious Caldwell-Pope said something the other day about feeling mentally as ready and confident as he’s been in his career, but physically, he thinks he’s going to need a few months to ramp up. I know you got a little banged up the other day. How are you feeling going into the season?
I think I’m probably in the same boat as him. Mentally, I think I’m motivated, I’m hungry, I’m excited to get to play with my new teammates. And then physically, just day- by-day, making sure that I get back to where I need to be to make it through the full season and be there in June and July when we need it the most.
The highlight of your season, at least from the outside looking in, was when you got the starting nod for Game 6 of the NBA Finals. Can you take me through the moments that led up to you finding out about that decision and the reaction that you got from back home?
When was it? It was probably the day in between. Before the film session, coach had talked to me and I think like Markieff [Morris] about potentially starting, switching up the lineup just to better contrast and defend what what the Miami Heat were trying to do with their small lineup and spacing the floor.
And, I mean, I told coach the same thing. I said ‘I’m ready.’ You know, whether I’m starting or coming off the bench, my whole career has kind of been like that. When I was on a two-way contract I’d show up and I didn’t know if I was gonna play that night. I might play zero minutes, I might get thrown in and play 25 minutes. It’s all just about being prepared and staying ready. I think that it really helped me. That helped me prepare for (Game 6), and then the morning of the game, before film session, coach let me know and I didn’t tell anybody back home whenever coach told me because I told them we were supposed to win Game 5 and I’d talk to them whenever we finished it out and we’d celebrate together.
You said early on in the bubble that playing without fans was a hurdle that you had to overcome that you didn’t initially expect to be a problem for you. How exactly did you overcome it, and are you more confident in that regard going into this season?
I think overcoming it was just, I think I had to lock back into what I do. You know, it’s really easy to focus, as crazy as it sounds, when there’s fans in the arena, just because I think you’re more present in the moment, more present in the situation, more mindful. I think without the fans in the bubble, you could be a little lackadaisical, maybe not as locked in and, you know, not as present as you wouldn’t be in an opposing arena or Staples Center.
So once once I kind of got back to my normal routine, where mentally and emotionally, leading up to the tip off, I acted as if we were back in the home arena or on the road in Portland, Houston, Denver — whoever we were playing — and I think that really helped me. And like you said, man, it’s not the same without fans. I was talking with my teammates through preseason, we really hope everybody can take care of themselves and we can get fans back soon because we miss ‘em.
Looking ahead to this season, the biggest story of the preseason so far has been Talen Horton-Tucker. He said recently that having someone in the locker room that came up from the G League and had to earn minutes on a veteran-heavy team has been beneficial for him. What is it like for you to be kind of the poster boy for G League success, and what kind of impression has Talen made on you?
I’m super excited for Talen just to start, because I know how hard he works. I know his work ethic. And, I mean, everybody’s seeing these games come out in preseason and how he’s been playing like this, but we’ve seen flashes of this for the last year. Like you said, we just we had such a deep team and such a veteran-led team that minutes were hard to come by.
But, you know, going back to my situation, I was in the same spot, and it’s just about fitting in where you can get in, you know? Figuring out what you can add to the team that’ll get you out on the court, and I think that’s one of the great things about me and Talen both is that we compete. We compete on every possession defensively, we compete every possession offensively and that gives the coaches a lot ease to put you in there when they know how hard you’re gonna play and they can count on you.
Before I let you go, I’d remiss if I didn’t mention that, in the Lakers community, our site is given credit for popularizing the “Bald Eagle” nickname. How do you feel about it? Where does it rank among your favorite nicknames?
I didn’t know y’all actually created that. That’s cool! We’re gonna have to fact check that, but for now, we’ll let you take the credit. But, you know, man, all that stuff is really crazy to me: The fact that there’s a mural of me somewhere in L.A., the fact that I’m a champion on the Lakers, all of the crazy nicknames from fans and people that love watching me play basketball. It’s really just, it’s really humbling, you know, because I’m a kid who grew up in college town that loved of basketball, and never really thought it would be possible to actually make this dream a reality, but here I am. It’s humbling, and I’m fortunate to be able to be in this position to where we can have these conversations.
My last thing for you: your Manchester City Citizens drew Mönchengladbach for the Champions League Round of 16. After the way they’ve started the Premier League season, has your attention, as a fan, shifted towards the Champions League?
You know, I’m still optimistic for all of the competitions. I think the Premier League is finally, you know ... every couple of years, there’s one or two teams that kind of dominate the league and run the league and then there’s a year or two of great diversity and talent, and I think this is one of the years where, you know, you see Southampton’s up in the table at fourth or third. Everton and Leicester are always good. Wolves just won a good game against Arsenal the other day. I think there’s a lot of good teams, so I think people are gonna continue to drop points. I’m really excited just to see City start scoring the way we’re used to.