While it may seem like the Los Angeles Lakers have an unlimited amount of money to spend on their quest to win an 18th NBA Championship, it doesn’t.
The Lakers have pretty much filled their entire roster – minus one or two possible veteran additions – after signing nine signings in the first two days of free agency, including a major re-signing to Talen Horton-Tucker.
But one player they won’t bring back is energetic spark plug Alex Caruso.
Entering this free agency period, Caruso was high on the team’s priority list. The Lakers held the bird rights to the 27-year-old guard and the team appeared to be in a good position to bring back the sixth man.
However, Caruso received an offer from the Chicago Bulls – a four-year, $ 37 million contract. While the contract is certainly an improvement on what he previously earned with the Lakers – he earned just under $ 2.8 million in the past two seasons with Los Angeles – it gave the Lakers the opportunity to re-sign him – and they finally got it.
According to ESPN’s Ramona Shelburne, Caruso was ready to re-sign for less than what the Bulls offered him at three years, $ 30 million – less total money over the term of the contract, but a slightly more annual rate. raised to less years – but the Lakers shot that down.
“I think the Lakers looked at Alex Caruso and said ‘we’re happy for you, we really appreciate everything you’ve done, we wish we could keep you but, you know” … he was ready to go back at three years and $ 30 million he actually gave them that option, even in the end – that’s less than what he signed in Chicago for – but even that was more than they were willing to pay … ready to go. They looked at Caruso and said “we can get to $ 7 million a year, but beyond that it gets too prohibitive.”
According to Shelburne, the Lakers were prepared to invest a maximum of $ 7 million per year. Because the team has already passed the luxury tax limit, it would have been a big bill for the franchise. Add an extra $ 3 million to Caruso this season, and it would have cost the Lakers a total of at least around $ 30 million in luxury tax payments.
Ultimately, Caruso ditched signing a less lucrative deal to return to a vying Lakers team in favor of the more lucrative deal behind a – but suddenly intriguing – rebuilding of the Chicago Bulls squad.
As ESPN’s Zach of Lowe pointed out, this was a purely tax decision by the Lakers, as paying the extra $ 3 million per season was not worth paying the extra money for the team. . For those who don’t know how the luxury tax works in the NBA, the tax line is $ 136.6 million for the 2021-22 season.
For teams between $ 15,000,000 and $ 19,999,999 above the cap, the tax rate is $ 3.25 for every dollar above the cap. The additional maximum for this tier is $ 16.25 million. The Lakers plan to be in this range at the start of the 2021-22 season.
“Well look, the Caruso decision was a tax decision,” Lowe said. “Even Russian trade, the tax was not not a consideration. Because Schröder, plus Hield, plus KCP and other players were probably going to end up being more expensive than Russ, even if Russ is making a ton of money.
“And look, you can sit here and quibble and say ‘how can you care about the tax when you have LeBron James approaching 37, like you have to be all-in to win now? “But they did care, and that’s their prerogative.
The Lakers certainly could have used Caruso for the coming season – at 27, he would be the fourth youngest player of all active players on the squad – but they ultimately decided that recruiting at least veteran players was a better path. to be continued. the coming season.
Keep in mind that the Lakers have added six players over the age of 32 this offseason – the most in NBA history.
The Lakers are hoping that experience and frugality – if you want to call it that – will eventually prevail as they look to keep pace with the Brooklyn Nets in the Eastern Conference next season.