As an unrestricted free agent, Caruso had the freedom to entertain offers from other teams, but there were plenty of reasons to be optimistic that he’d return to Los Angeles. For starters, his skillset is maximized by playing alongside a star point forward like LeBron James and under a defensive-minded coach like Frank Vogel. In terms of fit, the Lakers were the best fit.
Additionally, the Lakers had his full bird rights, meaning they could go over the cap to re-sign him to a contract worth up to the max. Obviously they were never going to give Caruso the max, but they could have if they wanted to, and not many other teams could say the same.
The bad news is that Caruso’s number was seemingly still too high for the Lakers, or they just believe a comparable player will be available for the veteran’s minimum or taxpayer mid-level exception. Regardless of whether or not that’s true (it’s not), letting Caruso walk for nothing is bad asset management.
Even if the Lakers sign a quality backup point guard for the veteran’s minimum — which I’m fairly confident they will do — they won’t be able to find someone with Caruso’s skillset, a skillset I’d argue is even more valuable now that Russell Westbrook is on the roster. They also won’t be able to add another salary of Caruso’s size until at least 2023.
Will the Lakers ultimately be fine without Caruso? Probably, but for now, this one stings.