Lakers fan favorite Alex Caruso faces the unknown of free agency

Lakers guard Alex Caruso is surrounded by Suns defenders after driving into the lane.
Lakers guard Alex Caruso is surrounded by Suns defenders after driving into the lane during a game this season.
(Gary Coronado/Los Angeles Times)

Alex Caruso’s decision on his future with the Lakers is looming, and whether he takes his services to another team or returns won’t be decided until August when the NBA’s free-agency period opens.

He just finished his fourth season with the Lakers, his role increasing every year as Caruso became a key contributor to winning the franchise’s 17th championship last season.

Now Caruso becomes an unrestricted free agent coming off a season in which the Lakers were pushed out of the playoffs by the Phoenix Suns on Thursday night, losing the first-round series 4-2.

“Hopefully, we can return and continue a great partnership,” Caruso said Friday during a videoconference after his exit meeting with the Lakers’ front office. “But that’s obviously for a later date.”

Free agents can begin negotiating with teams on Aug. 2 and sign a contract on Aug. 6. Caruso said he hasn’t made a list yet or of teams he’d like to play for.

Lakers fans react to their season coming to an end with a loss to the Phoenix Suns on June 3, 2021, at Staples Center.


So, with the freshness of losing in the playoffs, Caruso hasn’t thought much about his experience with the Lakers or seeking a bigger role elsewhere.

“There’s a lot of things I’ll sit down and think about and plan out, including what my offseason looks like as far as working out and getting stuff done, and real-world goals are things that I finally have a chance to do now that I have a real offseason,” he said. “I’m not scrapping for a job wondering where I’m gonna play. So, that’s not something I think I can answer right now. Obviously, there’s a bunch of different things that go into it.”

In talking to people in NBA front offices who are not authorized to speak publicly on Caruso’s pending free agency, the general thought is he can get a contract for about $5 million to $7 million per season on a three-year deal.

Caruso said that having played with LeBron James and Anthony Davis will have an influence on his decision.

“Yeah, it’s big. Anytime you’re playing with those two you have a chance to win a championship,” Caruso said. “A realistic chance to win a championship. And I know a lot of people around the league think they do and going into the season everybody talks about what their goals are and stuff like that. But it’s a realistic, attainable goal with those two guys on your team. So, that’s always in the back of your mind.”

The Lakers and Clippers open the NBA playoffs on May 22-23. Here’s a guide to the Los Angeles Times’ complete coverage.

Caruso grew as a player this season, averaging 6.4 points, 2.9 rebounds and 2.8 assists. He shot 43.6% from the field, 40.1% from three-point range and proved his value on both ends of the court by playing well in lineups with James.

He missed eight games with an assortment of injuries and was unable to finish Game 6 against the Suns because of a strained left ankle. He also missed five games while being in the NBA’s health and safety protocols.

Still, there’s also the fact that Caruso became a favorite with Lakers fans and was able to get several endorsements after the Lakers won the championship.

“I’m forever grateful for that and hopefully we’ll see where everything lies,” he said.

“But like I said, I got to rank stuff and that’s obviously not something I’ve thought about in depth 12 hours after the season ended. I’ll look more into that in July. But, yeah, those are definitely things that L.A. takes into consideration maybe more so than other places.”