At 3-5 and in the midst of an ugly three-game losing streak, the Los Angeles Lakers don’t look like the team that made it to the Western Conference Finals last season.
Injuries to multiple key players haven’t helped L.A.’s cause, but the team’s record has left many fans wondering whether the squad needs a shot in the arm via some roster changes.
Former Lakers champion Alex Caruso was recently linked to the team, and he seems like a perfect fit for the current squad. Caruso was a fan favorite during his time with the Purple and Gold, and many Lakers fans are on board with bringing him back.
The likelihood of a deal happening is unknown at the moment, but that doesn’t mean the Lakers shouldn’t make a deal to reunite with Caruso.
Here are five reasons why the Lakers should do what it takes to acquire the Texas A&M University product:
1. Instant Spark
All throughout his career, Caruso has been known as a player that always brings it. That type of energy is contagious and can help lift the roster up in a rough stretch during a game.
According to an unnamed NBA executive, the Lakers are “worried they don’t have enough of an edge.” Caruso has never been shy to show his emotions on the court and is always active.
Earlier this season, he forced a turnover from Pascal Siakam in overtime and hit a game-winning shot for the Bulls against the Toronto Raptors.
Plays like that from competitors like Caruso is an element the Lakers have desperately missed recently. Those types of plays could swing games instantly in Los Angeles’ favor.
2. Perimeter defense
D’Angelo Russell and Austin Reaves, the team’s current starting backcourt, aren’t the best defensively. Adding in Caruso, who specializes on defense, would add a whole new dynamic to the team’s perimeter defense. He’s vocal on that end of the floor and takes pride in excelling as a defender.
“He’s our Ray Lewis,” DeMar DeRozan told ESPN of Caruso. “He’s the Deion Sanders. He’s the Charles Woodson. He definitely is one of those great, vocalist, communicators and competitors when it comes to that end of the ball.
Adding Caruso would give Lakers head coach Darvin Ham another great defensive weapon. A lineup of Caruso, Jarred Vanderbilt, LeBron James, Anthony Davis and someone else like Gabe Vincent or Taurean Prince would be pretty formidable.
So far this season, Caruso is holding his opponents to 46.7 percent shooting from the field. For comparison, Reaves’ opponents are shooting 51.2 percent from the field, while Russell’s opponents are knocking down 49.1 percent of their shots.
It’s a considerable difference — and one that could help the Lakers eke out some wins over the rest of the season.
Caruso doesn’t back down from defending anybody, as shown by his defense against Kevin Durant on Wednesday. He held the star to 1-for-7 shooting from the field and blocked one of his shots in nearly six minutes matched up against him.
Durant gave Caruso his flowers after the game.
The one-time All-Defense selection has also held Luka Doncic to 1-for-5 shooting from the field this season in just under five minutes of play against him.
Having another capable defender to take on the assignment of guarding some of the league’s best scorers is invaluable.
3. Preestablished chemistry with LeBron and A.D.
Caruso played multiple years with both James and Davis, as the three of them helped the Lakers win it all back in 2020.
That’s something very important to keep in mind, as Caruso probably wouldn’t need an adjustment period like most players do when joining new teams. He already knows how to play alongside the two stars and appears to still have good relationships with both of them.
According to NBA insider Marc Stein, James “badly” wanted the Lakers to re-sign Caruso in the summer of 2021. However, Los Angeles reportedly wasn’t willing to move from a lowball offer it made, which led to the 29-year-old joining the Bulls on a four-year deal.
It feels as though Caruso would be able to pick up right where he left off and seamlessly fit into the team’s rotation.
4. Championship pedigree
The only players currently on the Lakers roster who have NBA Finals experience are James, Davis and Vincent. Caruso gots tons of it in the 2020 Finals by playing 24.8 minutes per game against the Miami Heat.
When the lights are the brightest, it’s always important to have as many players as possible that have been there to guide the ones that haven’t.
Having also clawed his way from being undrafted to becoming one of the best role players in the league, Caruso has a wealth of knowledge that he’d be able to pass onto Lakers youngsters.
If the Lakers are serious about making it back to the NBA Finals, adding another player who has been there — and won it all — is extremely important.
5. Value deal
Caruso is set to make a little under $10 million this season, and his deal is partially guaranteed for the 2024-25 campaign, the last year on his contract.
His deal becomes fully guaranteed for next season at the end of June 2024. So, if the Lakers were to acquire him, they’d have some time to make a decision as to whether or not they’d want to fully guarantee his deal for next season.
As it stands now, he’d be the seventh-highest earner on the Lakers. That would be a bargain, as he’d probably have a top-five or maybe even top-three impact.
When imagining what a possible Lakers trade for Caruso would look like, it’s important to keep in mind some limitations the Lakers have.
First, Russell, Vincent, Prince, Christian Wood, Cam Reddish and Jaxson Hayes cannot be dealt until Dec. 15. Rui Hachimura and Reaves cannot be moved until Jan. 15. Davis cannot be traded until Feb. 6, and Vanderbilt cannot be traded at all this season.
The rest of the roster (James, Jalen Hood-Schifino, Max Christie, Maxwell Lewis and the three two-way players) can be traded immediately.
Los Angeles is hard-capped at the NBA’s first apron ($172.3 million), and the current roster is close to that total. The Lakers cannot take back more than $4.9 million in additional salary in a move while also getting the roster back to at least 14 players (not including two-ways).
Taking all of that into account, it would likely take some time until the Lakers pulled off a trade for Caruso. Depending on where the Bulls stand in December or January, maybe the Lakers try to add DeRozan, a player they have targeted before. It seems likely that either Hood-Schifino or Christie would be involved in any deal.
Los Angeles has to think long and hard if that’s something it wants to do. Midseason trades treated the Lakers well last season, as the moves they made before the trade deadline catapulted them on a run to the Western Conference Finals.
Perhaps another one of those deals will get them over the hump this time.