No player on the Lakers roster has become more of a fan favorite over the last four years than Alex Caruso. Once a Summer League standout, Caruso blossomed into an x-factor in a title-winning campaign and established himself as one of the best role players ever to play alongside LeBron James as he became an integral part of the team’s roster.
But all that success has not gone unnoticed across the league, and Caruso is set to receive a notable pay raise as he enters free agency. The Laker’s commitment to their new big three of Russell Westbrook, LeBron James and Anthony Davis means the team will operate in the luxury tax this season. That means retaining Caruso will come at some price for the Lakers, as his market is expected to be in the neighborhood of the full mid-level exception at $9.5 million, as reported by Bill Oram of The Athletic.
The Lakers should and will try to retain Caruso and Horton-Tucker, but that will depend on how deep they are willing to go into the luxury tax. Caruso knocked down 40.1 percent of his 3s last season. He is expected to meet with several teams when free agency begins Monday afternoon, a league source told The Athletic, with a belief that he will have multiple options at the full midlevel exception of $9.5 million. The Lakers presumably would be willing to go into the low double-digits to retain Caruso. He is a known commodity, albeit one with a clear ceiling.
Jake Fischer of Bleacher Report also reported that Caruso’s market would be at the mid-level exception, while also noting the Wizards could be a suitor for his services.
The Lakers may also lose out on point guard Alex Caruso. There’s a sense around the league that Caruso will have several options at the full mid-level of $9.5 million. He will take meetings with teams in Los Angeles on Monday afternoon, and the Washington Wizards have been frequently mentioned by league personnel as a suitor to monitor.
On one hand, Caruso is going to be an expensive player to retain if the Lakers do so. In simple terms, his $9.5 million deal would cost drastically more for the organization, as each dollar spent for teams in the luxury tax can cost anywhere from $1.50 to $3.75 depending on how deep into the luxury tax a team goes.
On the other hand, the Lakers will have the decision in their own hands. If Caruso departs, it will be because the Lakers did not want to commit the money to sign him, a pill that will surely be incredibly difficult for fans to swallow. For what it’s worth, Jeanie Buss previously promised that she was willing to pay the tax for a contender.
In the search of potential silver linings, Caruso did speak after the season in his exit interview about how playing with LeBron James and Anthony Davis will be a “big factor” in his free agency decision. He also does have the same agency — Wasserman — as Westbrook, which is notable, but also may not have much of an impact on his decision if the money and roles being offered to him aren’t the same.
It all boils down to a decision that will seemingly be in the Lakers' hands as to whether they want to pay a premium to retain Caruso, or attempt to find a cheaper solution on a minimum contract in free agency.