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LeBron James could cause Lakers to splurge on Alex Caruso in free agency

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LeBron James calls Alex Caruso “The GOAT” every time he sees him, which should indicate the type of affinity the King shares for his Los Angeles Lakers running-mate.

Their connection is evident on the court. James and Caruso possess two of basketball’s highest IQs, and LeBron clearly appreciates the various ways — obvious, subtle, and everything in between — that Caruso impacts possessions on both ends.

That bond may not only help the Lakers win playoff games and maybe repeat as champions (we’ll see how Game 5 at Phoenix Suns arena goes.) Additionally, their connection may end up being the primary reason why the Lakers open their checkbook to  keep the Bald Eagle grounded in Los Angeles.

According to Bleacher Report’s Jake Fischer, the Lakers — despite facing a historically steep luxury tax bill — are willing to pony up to retain Caruso.

Alex Caruso will also become an unrestricted free agent this summer. League executives polled by B/R suggested the point guard could command upwards of $12 million in average annual value…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.

Los Angeles has a handful of major decisions to make this summer, specifically in their back-court. Dennis Schröder — who turned down $20+ million annually from the Lakers — wants to explore unrestricted free agency, while 20-year old Talen Horton-Tucker could be offered similar money to Caruso as a restricted free agent.

However, the Lakers may view their fan-favorite, homegrown guard as the most essential piece. Caruso has become an elite defender who often closes games. He improved his three-point shooting to 40.1% in 2020-21.

Caruso should have no shortage of suitors in free agency, considering “every team” in the league expressed interest in him at the trade deadline. Jeanie Buss said she’s willing to pay whatever is necessary to keep the Lakers’ championship window open. Depending on how these playoffs go, she could be forced to face those words — and potentially costly decisions — head on.