Much has been made about Dennis Schroder’s future, but the Los Angeles Lakers have a number of additional key players who will also be free agents this offseason. This group includes Alex Caruso and Talen Horton-Tucker with both players expected to garner significant attention around the NBA. Bleacher Report’s Jake Fischer reported each player could land a deal that pays them a $12 million annual salary.
“Alex Caruso will also become an unrestricted free agent this summer,” Fischer noted. “League executives polled by B/R suggested the point guard could command upwards of $12 million in average annual value, a similar number that restricted free agent Talen Horton-Tucker may also command for an offer sheet. Although there is a sense among Lakers officials that Caruso has relished supporting James and has an interest in staying in Los Angeles to compete alongside the four-time MVP.”
ESPN Predicts Caruso’s Salary Will Be About $9.5 Million
ESPN projects Caruso’s salary to be more in line with the $9.5 million midlevel exception. ESPN’s Bobby Marks sees Caruso landing a deal similar to De’Anthony Melton’s four-year, $34.6 million contract.
“The guard, who is the longest-tenured player on the roster, ranked No. 4 among all players in defensive rating (101.2) this season and is a big reason the Lakers ranked as the top defensive team in the league,” Marks noted. “Because he has been on the roster for more than three seasons, Caruso has full Bird rights, allowing the Lakers to sign him for up to 25% of the salary cap and a maximum of five seasons. According to Windhorst, league executives believe that Caruso could draw interest from teams in the $9.5 million midlevel exception range. That salary falls in line with the $8 million average value that ProFitX has for Caruso in free agency.”
Whatever number Caruso eventually earns, it will be a significant raise from his $2.75 million salary he played on this season. Caruso is a fan favorite for providing the team with much-needed energy off the bench but $12 million is a lot of money to pay for his current production.
The Cavs Will Reportedly Pursue Caruso in Free Agency
The guard averaged 6.4 points, 2.9 rebounds and 2.8 assists in 21 minutes per game during the 2020-21 season. If Caruso does land a $12 million annual salary, that is close to $2 million for every point he averaged.
The reality is the Lakers are expected to face significant competition from opposing teams for both Caruso and Horton-Tucker which could drive up the price. Cleveland.com’s Chris Fedor reported Caruso will be among the Cavaliers’ top free-agent targets, and the team also has their eye on Horton-Tucker.
“Any potential free agency list should start with Indiana’s T.J. McConnell and Los Angeles pest Alex Caruso. Both are Cavs targets,” Fedor noted. “Both fit really well. Some prefer Caruso. He’s younger, bigger, stronger and can guard multiple spots. Others like McConnell more. Even though he doesn’t shoot many 3s, he’s more polished, capable of filling in as starter, puts pressure on the rim and was the league’s total steals leader. Talen Horton-Tucker is another name to watch — although he will be a restricted free agent if the Lakers make a qualifying offer. Restricted free agency is tricky.”
The Lakers Are Helped by THT’s Restricted Free Agent Status
Horton-Tucker is in an entirely different category as the 20-year-old swingman has only played two NBA seasons and likely has more upside than Caruso. So much so, Horton-Tucker became the deal-breaker for the Lakers landing six-time All-Star Kyle Lowry via trade at the deadline.
The Lakers are helped by the fact that Horton-Tucker is a restricted free agent which means the team can match any offer he receives. With Schroder expected to receive a deal north of $80 million, the Lakers face some difficult decisions just to bring back their existing roster that the front office witnessed get bounced in the first round. ESPN’s Brian Windhorst reported in March that Horton-Tucker could command a four-year, $60 million deal that would put pressure on the Lakers with a mounting luxury tax bill next season.
“He’s a gifted defender with great length and great upside who’s just 20 years old. In this market, that’s exactly the type of player you want to chase,” an Eastern Conference executive told ESPN. “There could be a few teams who put them to the test and give [Horton-Tucker] an offer sheet thinking they could pry him away.”