Normally when the media discusses the benefits NBA players can receive by playing in a big market, the focus is on All-Stars, or franchise-altering talents, and the amount of extra attention they could receive by playing in a huge, glitzy city. But in becoming a fan favorite on a Lakers team featuring LeBron James and Anthony Davis, Alex Caruso has proven that role players can see some extra benefits by playing in Los Angeles, too.
If they’re playing for the Lakers, at least.
Not only is Caruso one of the few role players in the NBA with a multi-year shoe deal after Chinese sneaker giant Anta threw him the bag this season, but he also got to film potentially the greatest television endorsement advertisement of all time for the men’s grooming company Manscaped earlier this year.
The new Alex Caruso manscaped ad is the greatest commercial I've ever seen pic.twitter.com/EbIg6Mv4ne— Harrison Faigen (@hmfaigen) February 24, 2021
Why is this all relevant now? Because the Lakers’ season is over, and the team fell short of its bid to repeat as champions, losing in the first round to the Phoenix Suns. That means that Caruso is set to enter unrestricted free agency, and as he does so, he’s more than aware of the off-court benefits that come with being a beloved role player for the Lakers.
“I’m a realistic human being. I understand different things happen in L.A. for certain reasons. I’m forever grateful for that, and we’ll see where everything lies,” Caruso said at his exit interview on Friday. “But like I said, I’ve got to rank stuff, and that’s obviously not something I’ve thought about in depth 12 hours after the season ended. I’ll look more into that in July, but yeah, those are definitely things that L.A. takes into consideration maybe more so than other places.”
But getting paid to endorse high-end ball shavers won’t be the primary factor in Caruso’s decision-making. He says he can’t rank everything that will go into how he’ll decide where to play next right now — “I was planning on getting on a plane and flying to Phoenix (for Game 7) today,” Caruso said — but the only factor he would admit was “big” for him was the chance to play with LeBron James and Anthony Davis, who he has spent two years thriving alongside, and won the 2020 title with.
“Anytime you play with those two, you have a realistic chance to win a championship. I know a lot of people around the league think they do,” Caruso said. “But it’s a realistic, attainable goal with those two guys on your team, so that’s always in the back of your mind.”
Lakers general manager Rob Pelinka didn’t commit to bringing Caruso — or any other free agent — back during his own exit interview, but he repeatedly talked about how the team would be willing to pay what it takes to win, and how they saw players like Caruso and Talen Horton-Tucker who they developed in their G League farm system as a valuable part of their core. There was also a report earlier this week that the Lakers are quietly confident they can retain Caruso because of how much he loves playing with James.
But Caruso isn’t thinking about all that yet. He emphasized that he wants to decompress from the brutal schedule of the last two years, and that there are other things he wants to do prior to really buckling down to weigh his options before free agency starts on Aug. 2.
“There’s a lot of things that I will sit down and think about and plan out, including what my offseason looks like,” Caruso said. “Things that I finally have a real chance to do now that I have a real offseason being a pro. I’m not scrapping for a job, wondering where I’m going to play. So that’s something I don’t think I can answer right now. Obviously there’s a bunch of different things that go into it.”
Of those things, though, it sounds like the Lakers have a pretty compelling argument, based on what Caruso has admitted he values. August is still a long ways away, and a first-round exit always leaves room for roster upheaval, but all signs so far point to the Lakers keeping Caruso in the fold for years to come. Considering that Caruso has been described as “The LeBron of playing with LeBron” for his unprecedented effectiveness alongside the Lakers’ star, that would be good news indeed. Because becoming an irreplaceable role player and tinsel town endorsement sensation alongside two of the NBA’s biggest stars may not be the ending one would expect for an undrafted former G Leauger from College Station, but it appears to be the one Caruso has earned for himself.