The mountains blend seamlessly into crystal clear waters and if Lake Tahoe were a flower arrangement, you would bet all your money it was a fake. For the weekend, former Lakers guard Alex Caruso traded in his Chicago Bulls uniform for a perfectly fitted TravisMathew polo and slacks. With two holes remaining in the American Century Championship, Caruso tees off as a person in the crowd yells “Pelinka,” a reference to Lakers general manager Rob Pelinka.
Caruso is unphased grabbing his “pink lemonade” as he walks down the long fairway. Even on a picturesque July afternoon in Tahoe, the moment serves as a reminder that Caruso and the Lakers will be forever linked given Pelinka’s curious decision during the 2021 offseason to hit the nuclear button on a roster just one year removed from winning an NBA title. To paraphrase the great poet Robert Frost, two roads diverged in a yellow wood, and the Lakers took the most predictable path possible, choosing flash over substance.
Consider this fact, the Lakers will pay Russell Westbrook more next season than Caruso will make over his entire four-year contract with the Bulls. The team may have to attach draft picks with Westbrook in any trade just to move his salary. The Lakers could have re-signed Caruso, kept the young core intact and still potentially added another star such as DeMar DeRozan.
It has been a year since the Hollywood breakup and during an exclusive interview with Heavy, the easygoing guard discusses the idea of keeping tabs on his ex. Since joining the Bulls, Caruso has been candid about his desire that summer to remain with the Lakers, even a willingness to take less money in an effort to make it work. Now, Caruso takes the high road like a man at peace with his decision but the results speak for itself.
“Maybe not I told you so, but I don’t think I realized how much the Lakers are in the media until you leave,” Caruso explained during a July 9, 2022 interview. “Being in the [Lakers] facility, it’s a little hard to see, but being in Chicago this year, I could definitely tell. It was easy to keep up with throughout the year.”
“…They had a lot of turnover, anytime in professional sports, you have a lot of turnover, you have to rebuild chemistry, you got to rebuild continuity. That’s stuff that can’t really be overlooked sometimes. I think with pro sports, you think you just put a bunch of really good players on the court it will take care of itself. Sometimes it takes a little bit of glue, a little bit of time to figure out how it’s going to work. So, I think that’s probably just what they went through this past year.”
Caruso on LeBron’s Backing: ‘Gives You a Little More Confidence Going Forward’
The Lakers missed the playoffs in 2021-22 while the Bulls emerged as one of the surprise teams in the Eastern Conference earning the No. 6 seed. After joining the Bulls, Caruso averaged 7.4 points, four assists, 3.6 rebounds and 1.7 steals while also making a career-high 18 starts during a season unfortunately cut short with injuries.
Time will tell if the Los Angeles’ roster demolition may have wasted the final years of LeBron James’ career, but there is little doubt about the influence the superstar had on Caruso’s career. Caruso reflects on James’ impact on his career ascension, the equivalent of Jay-Z nodding his head to a new rapper’s banger of a track.
“Anytime you have the best player in the world giving you confidence, giving you his backing it just helps the game a little bit, gives you a little more confidence going forward,” Caruso said of his relationship with King James.
Caruso’s four seasons with the Lakers went as well as possible, including an NBA title during the 2019-20 season. Members of this championship team are now dispersed throughout the country, but Caruso admits the players still share a special bond.
“There’s a handful of them [I stay in contact with], we’re all still obviously tapped in on social media,” Caruso said of his former Lakers teammates. “I talk to Kuz [Kyle Kuzma] a lot about golf, about basketball, about stuff just in general. We have a great relationship. KCP [Kentavious Caldwell-Pope], LeBron through social media, a bunch of those guys from Danny Green, Dwight [Howard], still tap in with them every now and then. We got a great chemistry.”
Caruso on Signing With the Bulls: ‘I Don’t Think I’d Change It for Anything’
Much has been made about the past, but for Caruso it is all about the future. As the Lake Tahoe waters move quietly in the background, Caruso talks like a man at peace with how things played out.
There is no equivalent of a Taylor Swift breakup album forthcoming. When asked how the 2021 offseason could have played out differently, Caruso again takes the high road, noting he would not “change it for anything.”
“I think it worked out great for me,” Caruso admitted. “I think I got the most money I could get. I got the best opportunity I could get. Went to the best team and organization that I think really supports me and believes in me and gives me an opportunity to play basketball the way that I play best. I don’t think I’d change it for anything.”
Caruso is looking forward to his expanded role with the Bulls and the team building on their success from a season ago. The guard described his first year in Chicago as a “dive into the deep end” and looks forward to continuing the long swim ahead.
“It’s been fun, I think a little more responsibility basketball wise, a little more leadership just from where I’ve been in the past,” Caruso detailed. “I’m trying to be ten toes down and dive into the deep end and really embrace all that because for me it’s all about growth, trying to grow and be a better player. Better than I was last year, better than I was last month. So, for me, just being in a new setting, I think has allowed me to kind of tap into that.”
Caruso on TravisMathew: ‘Having Fun While Looking Good Doing It’
As a brand ambassador for TravisMathew, Caruso is a face for one of the hottest brands in the country. Setting up shop on the path to the 18th hole, TravisMathew’s party bus turned basketball hoop invited celebrities to nail a long shot with $10,000 going to the charity of their choice for each made basket.
Athletes such as Steph Curry, Charles Woodson and Carson Palmer were among the celebrities that took TravisMathew up on their offer. Elanor’s (the name of the TravisMathew bus) rooftop offered fans the best seat on the greens with a front-row view of the 18th tee box on the left with Lake Tahoe and the mountains to the right.
From the bus to legendary pro wakeboarder Steel Lafferty shooting off TravisMathew gear from his boat to the shores, the brand brought the party to the American Century Championship. As for Caruso, his remarkable career ascension includes going from being an undrafted player to NBA champion and now becoming one of the few esteemed athletes invited to participate in the iconic celebrity tournament at Edgewood Tahoe Golf Course. Caruso described the event as the “perfect blend” for TravisMathew.
“I think it’s pretty spot on,” Caruso said of the connection between TravisMathew and the American Century Championship. “I think TravisMathew started in golf and now they’re trying to venture out into other territories, just as casual comfortable clothes. I think this event is kind of the perfect blend of that.
“It’s a mix of a bunch of athletes, actors, famous people in general and then you have fans coming out that get to actually have fun and enjoy the game of golf, which I think is what TravisMathew is all about. It’s just enjoying the game, growing the game and having fun while looking good doing it.”