With the way things are trending for the Los Angeles Lakers, their offseason unfortunately may start sooner rather than later, and one of their first orders of business will be to try and negotiate a new contract for Alex Caruso.
Caruso signed a two-year, $5.5 million contract with the Lakers in 2019 after spending the two previous years on a two-way contract. Other teams had interest in signing Caruso — most notably the Golden State Warriors — but he was a restricted free agent, so whether or not he had a future in Los Angeles wasn’t entirely up to him. Plus, the Lakers offered the most money and opportunity. That won’t necessarily be the case this year.
Once Caruso’s contract expires at the end of the season, he’ll be an unrestricted free agent, and it’s safe to assume teams will have more interest in him league-wide than they did in 2019 because of his defensive impact and his recent uptick in 3-point shooting. In this past regular season, Caruso shot 40.1% from behind the arc on 2.4 attempts per game, both of which are career-highs.
But while it’s certainly not impossible that Caruso gives another team serious consideration in free agency, the general belief within the Lakers organization is that he wants to be back in Los Angeles, according to Jake Fischer of Bleacher Report:
Alex Caruso will also become an unrestricted free agent this summer. League executives polled by B/R suggested the point guard could command upwards of $12 million in average annual value, a similar number that restricted free agent Talen Horton-Tucker may also command for an offer sheet. Although there is a sense among Lakers officials that Caruso has relished supporting James and has an interest in staying in Los Angeles to compete alongside the four-time MVP.
Caruso isn’t the only Lakers point guard that’s due for a new contract, though. As Fischer notes, Talen Horton-Tucker and Dennis Schröder are also going to be free agents this summer, and they’re expected to be as highly-coveted as Caruso is.
That being said, Caruso is undoubtedly the most valuable of the three point guards — especially when it comes to playing with LeBron James — and he should be treated as such when free agency opens.
Lakers team governor Jeanie Buss has expressed a willingness to pay a hefty luxury tax bill to keep her team in championship contention, so keeping all three of Caruso, Horton-Tucker and Schröder is a possibility and one that they’ll surely be hoping for. But we’ve also heard tons of reports about Schröder’s lofty contract expectations, and if those expectations are met, it will be difficult for the Lakers to fill out their roster with all three of them on their payroll.
Would it be disappointing to lose Schröder with the knowledge that they couldn’t replace him with someone of greater or equal value? Of course, but if it came down to him or Caruso because of his contract demands, the choice should be obvious for the Lakers. The same can be said of Horton-Tucker, but he’ll be a restricted free agent, and there haven’t been reports of him making salary demands yet, so he appears to be less of an overall flight risk.
Caruso may not be the flashiest point guard in the league, and there have definitely been times where his offensive limitations have caused issues for the Lakers, but he’s just too good a fit with the current core to let go of. Hopefully both sides can come to an agreement early in the free agency window later this summer.