Very few people knew who Alex Caruso was when he went undrafted in 2016. Fast forward to 2021 NBA free agency and the 6-foot-4 guard has emerged as player many teams are targeting with a lucrative contract waiting for him.
Caruso didn’t hear his name called during the 2016 NBA Draft, forcing him to prove himself in the NBA Development League. He got his first real opportunity in the 2017 summer league with the Los Angeles Lakers and helped lead the team to a championship.
Los Angeles saw enough in the former Texas A&M guard, signing him to a two-way contract. After bouncing around between the Lakers’ roster and the G-League from 2017-’18, Caruso landed a role in an NBA rotation. It didn’t take long for him to become beloved by the fan base, even playing a sizable role in the Lakers’ championship.
Now set to become an unrestricted free agent in August, NBA rumors are already swirling about the market for Caruso.
According to The Athletic’s Jovan Buha, Caruso is the Lakers’ free agent drawing the most appeal across the league. While teams will still be a bit tight with their spending after the COVID-19 pandemic, Caruso”s contract is expected to land him in the $10-12 million per season range.
Let’s examine three potential landing spots for Alex Caruso in NBA free agency.
Alex Caruso cashes in with Cleveland Cavaliers
Cleveland.com Chris Fedor reported, Caruso is on the Cavaliers’ radar and will be among the role players. Due to his age, size and track record, he could be one of Cleveland’s top targets this summer.
It’s hard to blame the Cavaliers for putting Caruso near the top of their free-agent wishlist. While he has never averaged more than 21 minutes per game during his career, the 27-year-old has always been an effective player in limited minutes. He also comes with a glowing review from coach Frank Vogel, who views the young guard as an All-Defensive Team candidate.
The Cavaliers will prioritize a new contract for Jarrett Allen, but Caruso can still be part of the front office’s plans this summer. There will be even more minutes available for him if Collin Sexton is traded, which could open the door for Caruso to become Cleveland’s lead guard off the bench. If he wants a larger role and an even bigger contract, the Cavaliers are a solid option.
Dallas Mavericks add much-needed defense
LeBron James once returned home after winning a championship, Caruso could do the same. He spent most of his life in College Station, just a few hours away from Dallas. While homecomings are typically saved for the latter stage of a player’s career, this could be a really nice fit for both sides.
The Mavericks tried to solve their defensive issues with Josh Richardson and it failed miserably. There’s a strong possibility this 6-foot-4 guard to solve a few issues. Los Angeles posted an outstanding 107.8 defensive rating this season when Caruso was on the bench, per CBS Sports, and it was even better (101.7) when he was on the court. For comparison, Caruso’s 101.7 defensive rating is better than Matisse Thybulle (104.7).
Dallas needs a player like Caruso and Mark Cuban might have a slight recruiting edge by pitching a return to Texas. Don’t expect a hometown discount, but Caruso would be a fantastic addition for the Mavericks.
Los Angeles Lakers re-sign Alex Caruso
There’s a reason the Lakers badly want Caruso to return. He might only see the court 22 minutes per game, but he makes every second on the court matter. For a team that places such an emphasis on defense, Caruso comes up huge in a conference with Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, Devin Booker, Donovan Mitchell, Damian Lillard and so many other top guards.
We also can’t discount Caruso as a shooter. He doesn’t fire from beyond the arc often, but he shot 40.1% from 3-point range this past season and that makes him an even better role player. While plenty of focus with the Lakers is always on adding another star, Rob Pelinka would be wise to re-sign Caruso this summer.