When the Chicago Bulls and Los Angeles Lakers tip off at Staples Center Monday evening, it’ll mark Alex Caruso’s first game against the team that saw him carve out a substantial role in the NBA. This past summer, Caruso left the Lakers to sign with the Bulls on a four-year, $37 million deal.
Yet Caruso was never determined to bounce from Los Angeles and was entirely willing to return for the right price. According to a report from The Athletic’s Bill Oram, the Lakers simply refused to ever move off of their initial offer of three years, $21 million, even when Caruso presented Chicago’s offer to the organization and countered with two years, $20 million — roughly the same annual amount as the Bulls’ number for half the years.
“No dollars and cents higher than that (first offer) ever came back,” Caruso told Oram. “There’s no counters. It was just, I think, that was kind of all they had. And at that point, it was like, okay, I have to make an executive decision based on real life here.”
Foolishly, the Lakers prioritized luxury tax savings over retaining a key role player and elite perimeter defender to pursue another title run. Other offseason moves produced a $44 million luxury tax bill for the franchise, prior to any decision regarding Caruso.
“According to salary cap expert Danny Leroux, if Caruso had agreed to the Lakers offer, the franchise would have owed an additional $17.5 million in luxury tax, a fact the Lakers hoped would resonate with Caruso,” Oram wrote. “Even though those tax dollars wouldn’t land in his bank account, it did represent a total financial commitment greater than what the Bulls paid and, in the Lakers’ mind, aligned their actual investment with his market value.”
Obviously, that’s absurd logic. They wanted to guarantee Caruso roughly 55 percent of the total money the Bulls offered while signing him for 75 percent of the years, and pitched him on it with faulty rationale that focused on the team’s finances rather than his own. The Lakers have clearly missed his on-court services so far this season, and it’s because ownership and management bungled this situation by valuing wealth over basketball success.
Fortunately for Caruso, the Bulls have been a splendid destination. He’s playing superbly on a well-fitting team and found financial security for himself long-term.