Lakers Rumors: LA Wanted Alex Caruso Back in FA Despite Not Countering Bulls Contract

Tim Daniels@@TimDanielsBRFeatured Columnist IVAugust 16, 2021

LOS ANGELES, CA - MAY 30: Alex Caruso #4 of the Los Angeles Lakers dribbles the ball during the game against the Phoenix Suns during Round 1, Game 4 of the 2021 NBA Playoffs on May 30, 2021 at STAPLES Center in Los Angeles, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2021 NBAE (Photo by Adam Pantozzi/NBAE via Getty Images)
Adam Pantozzi/NBAE via Getty Images

The Los Angeles Lakers reportedly hoped to retain guard Alex Caruso in free agency, but they couldn't contend with the four-year, $37 million contract he received from the Chicago Bulls.

Sam Amick of The Athletic reported Monday the Lakers "strongly refuted" any suggestion they didn't want Caruso back and simply bowed out of the negotiations "when the price went too high."

Caruso emerged as a cult hero across four seasons in L.A. His baseline numbers don't jump off the page, averaging 5.9 points, 2.4 assists and 2.3 rebounds across 184 games, but he excelled in a high-energy, defense-first role off the bench.

The 27-year-old Texas A&M product discussed his defensive mentality with reporters after signing with Chicago:

"Caring every possession, having that mindset of wanting to get a stop, having a pride that you don't want your guy to score and you're trying to win games. That's where it starts. That's something that I think I can provide day in, day out, game in, game out. Something you can control is your effort and your energy and playing defense. And for me that's always been a catalyst for my game, whether it's been getting a run through steal and getting a dunk on the other end or taking a charge or getting a deflection. It provides energy to the team, provides energy for the game and usually is positive."

Caruso added he knows a lot of people wanted him to stay in L.A., but he's ready for the new challenge with the Bulls:

"I know a lot of people were upset that I didn't get to stick around and try and run it back for a couple of more years [with the Lakers]. It's the business of basketball. You can't always keep everybody you want or else there'd be a bunch of good teams with a whole bunch of good players and nobody else would win. I'm happy that I fell to Chicago, that the chips fell where they did. I'm excited for the team that we have and the future that this team has."

In this case, the business of basketball was the Lakers having limited financial resources after the blockbuster trade for Russell Westbrook and the need to re-sign fellow guard Talen Horton-Tucker, who inked a new three-year, $30.8 million contract with the team.

Los Angeles will miss Caruso's defense on an opponent's top backcourt scorer, but it was able to rebuild its guard depth with multiple signings in free agency on team-friendly deals, including Kendrick Nunn and Malik Monk. Kent Bazemore was also added and could help fill the void defensively.

Meanwhile, Caruso was part of a busy offseason for the Bulls, who also brought in Lonzo Ball and DeMar DeRozan to bolster the roster around Zach LaVine and Nikola Vucevic.

The 6'4" Texas native should have an opportunity to compete for the role of first guard off the bench behind Ball and LaVine, which would represent the most significant involvement in his NBA career to date.

So his departure from L.A. is understandable from both perspectives, and Caruso will surely receive a hero's welcome when the Bulls make their first stop at Staples Center during the 2021-22 season.