The Lakers have made many gaffes in recent seasons, but few were as painful for fans as watching Alex Caruso walk away from southern California due only to the team’s own decision. Undervalued by the front office, Caruso cashed in on his success in purple and gold by joining the Bulls in free agency.
It was a mistake in the moment and one exacerbated by their inability to replace him in the years since. But now, with the Bulls on the verge of potentially blowing their roster up, Caruso could potentially become the prodigal son who returns home.
The Lakers’ interest in LaVine is real — at the right price. However, LaVine’s potential availability also hints at the possibility of a fire sale in Chicago, with the organization seemingly looking to finally pivot away from its longstanding mediocrity. If additional Bulls players become available, the Lakers would also have interest in DeMar DeRozan and/or former Laker Alex Caruso, according to multiple team sources.
The difference between LaVine and Caruso is night and day for this Lakers team in so many ways. While LaVine would represent — likely foolishly — chasing a third star once again, bringing back Caruso would fall more in line with acknowledging their mistake and attempting to recreate a formula that led the franchise to a title in 2019-20.
They also would likely come at vastly different price points in a trade. LaVine is signed through the 2025-26 season with a player option for the 2026-27 season and is at a high price. Caruso is on the hook for only $3 million guaranteed next season and $9.8 million in total.
The team may not have to pick one of the players as they would prefer to look to expand a LaVine trade to include Caruso, as Buha reports, though it could come at the price of all of their assets (emphasis mine).
The most likely framework of a LaVine deal would center around Russell, who waived his implied no-trade clause over the offseason. It’d also need to feature Hachimura or Vincent as additional matching salary, another player and either the team’s 2029 or 2030 first-round pick – potentially with protections. (It cannot include both due to the restrictions of the Stepien rule). The Lakers would prefer to expand a theoretical trade to include Caruso, in the scenario that he’s eventually made available. One complication in that case is that the Lakers do not have many available first-round picks left to trade, though they could insert another pick swap (the first-round pick they don’t send between 2029 and 2030) and have four second-round picks available to trade.
At that point, the contracts of LaVine and Caruso would tally for $49 million, meaning the Lakers would have to trade basically every tradeable contract they have, including D’Angelo Russell, Rui Hachimura, Gabe Vincent and Maxwell Lewis — though that final player could also be Jalen Hood-Schifino — simply to make the money work. And, for the record, I’m not including Austin Reaves in this because he’s too good to be traded, though there would be something poetic about the Lakers making the same mistake they did with Caruso in not properly valuing Reaves by including him a deal to bring back Caruso.
All that brings them right back to the spot they were in during the Russell Westbrook years. That also doesn’t mention the practicality of all this in that the aforementioned trade could only happen after Jan. 15 due to both Russell and Hachimura re-signing with the team, making it even more unlikely. Would the Bulls wait two more months for that package, even with the addition of a draft pick in 2029 or 2030?
A trade for just Caruso? That would only need to include Vincent, who could be traded on Dec. 15, and one other potential young player or draft pick. Vincent had a rough start to his Lakers campaign before an injury has had him sidelined for all of November so far and likely much of it moving forward.
DeMar DeRozan is also lurking in the background of all this. You’d be hard-pressed to find someone in the league who has wanted to play for the Lakers more than DeRozan. He is set to make $28.6 million in the final year of his deal this season. While not as drastic, the same problems arise in packaging him in any deal with Caruso in that the team won’t have the salaries to trade for him until mid-January.
All of this is to say, realistically, the Lakers are probably on the outside looking in at a LaVine trade. They wouldn’t have a great trade package for him relative to those around the league and wouldn’t be able to offer it until a month after everyone else.
For Caruso, though? They would have a competitive offer as quickly as anyone else.
Right your wrongs, Lakers. Bring him home.
You can follow Jacob on Twitter at @JacobRude.