Shortly after Alex Caruso agreed to a four-year, $37MM deal with the Bulls in August, a pair of reports indicated that the Lakers didn’t come close to matching that offer and that L.A. wasn’t willing to go any higher than about $7MM per year for the free agent guard.
Making an appearance on J.J. Redick‘s The Old Man and the Three podcast, Caruso didn’t explicitly confirm those reports, but his comments strongly suggested they were accurate. The 27-year-old spoke in detail about his experience in free agency and how he ended up signing with Chicago.
“Going into it, I really didn’t know what to expect and I really didn’t hear much from any team, including the Lakers, leading up to 6:00pm,” Caruso said. “And then they called and the Lakers made their offer. It wasn’t an offer I was going to accept, because I was going to be able to get considerably more money from another team.”
As Caruso explained, after fighting so hard to earn an NBA roster spot and earning fairly modest salaries during his first four years in the league, he viewed free agency as his best opportunity to gain long-term financial security for him and his family. In other words, money was going to be an important factor in his decision.
“There was talk with a bunch of different people about the mid-level, which I think was four (years) for $40 (million),” Caruso said. “We never got anybody to that actual number, but there were a couple teams that got close. Then my agent texted me and said, ‘Hey, Chicago’s interested in signing you.’ I didn’t know that financially it was going to be able to work. I thought once ‘Zo (Lonzo Ball) signed with Chicago, I was like, “OK, well, Chicago’s off the list.’
“… (But) I got on the phone with AK (president of basketball operations Arturas Karnisovas) and with (head coach) Billy (Donovan), and the way they were just talking about how they wanted to play, how they saw me as a player, I thought they hit the nail on the head. I thought everything they said, I was like, ‘I think that’s accurate, I think that’s what I bring to the table, I think that’s how I can help the team win, I think that’s the direction that this team wants to go.’ I thought there was a need for the stuff that I had.”
Although Caruso liked the idea of heading to Chicago, he was reluctant to leave Los Angeles after winning a championship with the franchise in 2020. He told Redick that he and his camp circled back to the Lakers to see if they’d be willing to do a deal in the range of the one he was being offered by the Bulls.
“So essentially we got that offer, went back to L.A., asked if they could do the same. They said no,” Caruso said. “Asked for something else that was a little less. They said no. I said, ‘OK, well, if that’s what it comes to, I’m ready to go to Chicago and start the next chapter.'”
Caruso didn’t share the specifics of the Lakers’ offer, but provided a hint. Redick guessed that L.A.’s initial offer was $15MM over two years, and asked Caruso to blink once if that estimate was “over” and twice if it was “under.” It was hardly a scientific process, but for what it’s worth, Caruso blinked just once, suggesting the Lakers’ offer was lower.
Los Angeles projects to be a taxpayer this season, so any deal with Caruso would’ve cost the team exponentially more in tax penalties than the guard would’ve actually earned. The Lakers ended up letting virtually all of their free agents walk, with the exception of Talen Horton-Tucker.
In 10 games (27.9 MPG) for the Bulls so far, Caruso has been a key member of the team’s bench, averaging 7.8 PPG, 3.9 APG, and 2.3 SPG while playing strong defense. With Chicago off to a 7-3 start and tied for the best record in the East, Caruso told Redick that joining the Bulls has been “a great decision for me.”