May 19, 2022

Lakers shower Alex Caruso with praise before, during his return with Bulls

View Original Notice ? Lakers shower Alex Caruso with praise before, during his return with Bulls

LOS ANGELES — Frank Vogel called him “one of my favorite guys that I ever coached.”

Anthony Davis called him “a big part of what we did here.”

LeBron James? He just hugged him.

Alex Caruso is still loved in Los Angeles, and if it wasn’t clear from the loving, two-minute tribute video or the lavish praise from former teammates and coaches, it was clear from the roar of the Lakers fans who cheered the 27-year-old as he was introduced in the Chicago Bulls’ starting lineup on Monday night at Staples Center.

As long as the 2019-20 title banner hangs in the arena, it seems Lakers fans will throw their weight behind Caruso, who was a beloved member of that group. And his first visit as a Lakers’ opponent couldn’t dull the enthusiastic reception he received from the sellout crowd.

Entering the evening, Caruso was one of the league’s steals leaders (2.5 per game), to go with his averages of 8.1 points and 3.8 assists. Watching tape of the Bulls, Vogel, the Lakers’ head coach, sees the hallmarks of Caruso’s play on the Chicago’s 9-4 start, especially on defense.

“Just seeing the same Alex,” he said. “Great intensity on the defensive side of the ball. Great IQ and versatility offensively. I think his winning habits and winning DNA is a big part of their resurgence.”

Caruso’s relationship with the Bulls’ coaching staff actually dates back further than this summer, when he signed in Chicago as a free agent. Billy Donovan was the head coach in Oklahoma City when Caruso was picked up by the G League affiliate there, in part because Donovan had also coached against Caruso when he was a star at Texas A&M.

Donovan always liked Caruso’s defense and playmaking. The 3-point shooting was the missing piece when he was just a prospect, but Caruso has improved to a 37.3% career shooter from behind the arc.

“There were a lot of people there who really felt like he couldn’t play,” Donovan said. “He went undrafted and then kind of worked his way into this position.”

The Lakers, of course, had a huge hand in Caruso’s rise, making him as a two-way contract player before he gained traction on the 15-man roster. But when Caruso got a sweeter deal with Chicago this offseason, he cashed in – even though he acknowledged to multiple media outlets that he gave the Lakers a chance to counter.

There are those who would have liked to see Caruso back with the Lakers this season, even though his salary would have shot them even higher into the NBA’s luxury tax. Vogel sounded like one of them, but he ultimately acknowledged that it’s the nature of the NBA that players move on for more money.

“How do you not love a guy that plays as hard as Alex Caruso does? He represents all of the right things,” he said. “But this is a business and tough decisions have to be made with the cap. You’d love to keep all of your guys every year, but it’s just not always possible. You want your guys to play well enough to earn big contracts.”


There remains no clear timeline on James’ return to play, as the 36-year-old missed his seventh consecutive game with an abdominal strain. But whenever he comes back, Vogel said, is up to him.

The Lakers are unlikely to have many practices in the coming days due to the back-to-back games Sunday and Monday and the five-game road trip out East. But James and his trainer will make their best determination – the team has termed James’ availability as “day-to-day.”

“We trust him to monitor his own progression in terms of building back to be ready to play,” he said. “So that will be pretty much between Mike Mancias and LeBron and the rest of the medical team. And, obviously, as coaches, we’ll monitor what that work looks like. But we trust them to make smart decisions on that.”

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