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Report: Alex Caruso offered to return to Lakers for similar money as he’ll get from Bulls

Lakers guard Alex Caruso

LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA - MAY 30: Alex Caruso #4 of the Los Angeles Lakers reacts after being called for a foul during the second half of Game Four of the Western Conference first-round playoff series against the Phoenix Suns at Staples Center on May 30, 2021 in Los Angeles, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)

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The Bulls are signing Alex Caruso to a four-year, $37 million contract.

Why aren’t the Lakers – who hold Caruso’s Bird Rights – re-signing him?

Ramona Shelburne of ESPN:

He was willing to go back there at three years and 30 million, Brian. He actually gave them that option, even at the end.

Brian Windhorst:

I think that’s about what he’s guaranteed in Chicago. That’s not a fully guaranteed deal.

Shelburne:

The Lakers, they looked at Caruso and said, “We can go to 7 million a year. But above that, it gets too cost-prohibitive.”

Paying Caruso the same amount over three years vs. four years isn’t exactly the same. Unless Caruso’s fourth season with Chicago is fully unguaranteed, in which case it might be pretty similar (though still more team-friendly on the four-year deal).

But Caruso is a good player. The 27-year-old defends effectively, hustles to take advantage of his athleticism and can hit 3-pointers. Plus, he has good chemistry with LeBron James.

Paying Caruso $30 million over three years would have been completely reasonable.

Of course, it would have cost the Lakers much more.

Not only would they have had to pay Caruso’s salary ($7,590,081 higher than a minimum salary next season if his deal were fully backloaded), their luxury-tax liability would have increased by nearly $31 million.

That’s a total projected payroll increase of $38 million.

Is Caruso worth that? Maybe not to Lakers owner Jeanie Buss, who pays the bills. It’s easy for others to spend her money.

But the Lakers are contending for a championship. This is the time to spend. Though their luxury-tax liability is high – $51 million – paying even more could have improved the team on the court.

The Lakers have done well with their minimum signings. But they could have gotten all those same players (Malik Monk, Kent Bazemore, Trevor Ariza, Wayne Ellington, Carmelo Anthony, Dwight Howard) and Talen Horton-Tucker and Kendrick Nunn AND Caruso within salary-cap rules. The appropriate comparison is Caruso to the last man on the roster, likely someone far worse than Caruso.

LeBron pressured the Cavaliers to spend into the stratosphere when he was Cleveland. Though he blessed the Cavs letting Matthew Dellavedova walk in a somewhat-similar situation, that was an exception. In Los Angeles, LeBron is mostly ceding his power to management.

The result: The Lakers won’t spend quite as much money, leaving their roster short of maximized.