NBA Free Agency 2021: Los Angeles Lakers had the opportunity to Sign Alex Caruso and Passed

Although it might seem that the Los Angeles Lakers are able to spend unlimited amounts of money in pursuit to winning the 18th NBA Championship, this is not the truth.

After signing nine players in their first day of free agency and one significant re-signing, the Lakers now have almost all of their roster.

However, they won’t be bringing back Alex Caruso, the energetic spark plug.

Caruso was the top priority of the team when he entered the free agency period. Caruso was 27 years old and the Bird Rights were held by the Lakers. The team seemed to be in a favorable place to bring him back.

Caruso was however offered a deal by the Chicago Bulls for a $47 million, four-year contract. The contract, while an improvement over his previous earnings with the Lakers — Caruso earned less than $2.8 million in the last two seasons playing for Los Angeles — gave him the opportunity to sign with the Chicago Bulls — which he ultimately accepted.

According to Ramona Shelburne of ESPN, Caruso was willing to re-sign for less than what the Bulls offered him at three years, $30 million — less total money on the length the contract, but slightly higher annual rate at less years — but the Lakers shot that down.

I think Alex Caruso was looking at the Lakers and saying, “We’re happy, we really appreciate all you’ve done. We wish we could have you stay, but, you understand ‘….” At three years and $30million, he was open to going back. But that’s more than they could afford to pay. Caruso was the one they looked at and told them that $7 million per year is possible, but over that it becomes prohibitive.

Shelburne stated that the Lakers would only accept $7 million annually. The team has already passed the luxury tax threshold, so that would be a large bill. Add an additional $3 million to Caruso’s salary this season and the Lakers would be responsible for $30 million in luxury tax payments.

Caruso ultimately decided to not sign a lucrative contract to play for a competing Lakers team, but instead signed the lucrative deal with the rebuilding and suddenly interesting Chicago Bulls.

As Zach of Lowe of ESPN stressed, this was purely a tax decision by the Lakers, as paying the extra $3 million per season was not worth paying the extra money for the team. The luxury tax in the NBA is $136.6million for 2021-22.

The tax rate for teams exceeding $15,000,000 or $19,999999999 above the cap is $3.25 per dollar. This level has an incremental maximum of $16.25million. In the 2021-22 season, The Lakers expect to reach this level.

Lowe stated, “Well look at the Caruso decision. It was a tax decision.” The tax, even in the Russ deal was not . It was not. Schroder plus Hield plus KCP plus the other players would likely make Russ more costly than Russ even though Russ has a huge amount of money.

You can argue and say, “How can you worry about tax when LeBron James is approaching 37?” But, they were concerned about it and that’s their right.

Caruso could certainly have been used by the Lakers for this season; at 27 years old, he would be the fourth-oldest active roster player. But they decided to sign veteran players at minimum for next season.

Remember that the Lakers added six players above the 32-year-old age this offseason, which is the highest number in NBA history.

As they try to catch up with Brooklyn Nets of the Eastern Conference, The Lakers hope experience and thrift — if that’s what you want to call them — will prevail.

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