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League executives expect Alex Caruso to get full mid-level exception in free agency

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Alex Caruso could double the money he’s made over the last two years in the first year of his next contract.

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Los Angeles Lakers v Denver Nuggets Photo by Garrett Ellwood/NBAE via Getty Images

In December, the Los Angeles Lakers signed Kyle Kuzma to a three-year, $40 million contract extension to avoid having to go into restricted free agency with the 25-year-old forward. They’re expected to try and do the same with Dennis Schröder, who will enter unrestricted free agency this summer if he doesn’t sign an extension before the 2021 offseason.

Unfortunately, the Lakers don’t have the same luxury with Alex Caruso, who signed a two-year, $5.5 million contract with the Lakers in the summer of 2019. Had he signed for three or more years, they would have been allowed to negotiate a contract extension with him before the 2021 offseason. Instead, they can’t, and will have to compete with other teams for Caruso’s services in free agency.

According to a report from Brian Windhorst of ESPN, he won’t come cheap:

As an athletic guard who can defend, unrestricted free agent Caruso will have suitors. League executives think he could draw interest at the full midlevel exception range, which is $9.5 million next season. (Caruso currently earns $2.7 million.)

The good news for the Lakers is that they’ll have Caruso’s bird rights this summer, which means they can go over the cap to sign him so long as they don’t renounce his $5.2 million cap hold or go over the luxury tax apron in free agency. So while money and luxury tax payments could become an issue because of the other players that are due new contracts, it might not be as big of an issue as other factors in Caruso’s decision, like his role.

Assuming Schröder signs an extension with the Lakers, he’ll be the team’s starting point guard for the foreseeable future. Then there’s Talen Horton-Tucker, who the Lakers also have to decide about making a long-term commitment to this summer.

If you’re Caruso, do you re-sign with the Lakers knowing you’re likely going to be the third or fourth guard in the rotation for the duration of your contract, or do you sign with a team like the Dallas Mavericks, who can offer you similar money, but a bigger role alongside Luka Doncic in your home state of Texas? It’s not an easy decision.

Overall, though, the Lakers should feel confident about the situation they’re in with Caruso. As good as he’s been during his time in Los Angeles, it’s also the only place he’s had success in the NBA. Would he really leave that situation?

There are also the financial benefits of playing in Los Angeles that Caruso has reaped over the last year, most recently by signing a multi-year shoe deal with Anta.

I’m not saying Caruso isn’t going to leave the Lakers — I’m just saying it might be hard for him to.

For more Lakers talk, subscribe to the Silver Screen and Roll podcast feed on iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher or Google Podcasts. You can follow this author on Twitter at @RadRivas.