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NBA AM: Ending Contracts To Watch At The Deadline

With the NBA Trade Deadline just a few days away, it’s smart to keep an eye on the notable ending contract players.

Steve Kyler

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The Ending Contracts

With the 2017 NBA Trade Deadline approaching on Thursday, February 23 at 3 p.m. EST, there is more and more chatter in NBA circles, and the biggest questions facing NBA teams is what to do with their ending contract or possible ending contract players.

The bulk of deals done at the deadline usually involve players on expiring contracts that their incumbent teams feel could walk as unrestricted free agents or get priced out of a range that makes sense for them. While there are more than 70 players that fall into this category, there are some top tier guys worth watching and a few in the next tier that could be attractive in a trade.

Top Of The List

Stephen Curry – Golden State Warriors – $12,112,359

If there was any doubt in your mind, let’s set the record completely straight. Steph Curry is re-signing in Golden State. He’ll qualify for the new Designated Veteran contract and will ink for more than $210 million in July. As much as people in Charlotte or New York dream of Curry, it’s not likely to happen.

Chris Paul – Los Angeles Clippers – $22,868,827 – $24,268,959

The same is basically true of Chris Paul. He’ll opt out of his final $24.26 million and ink a new deal with the Clippers for north of $200 million. While Knicks fan often dream of a Carmelo Anthony-Paul tandem, it’s not going to happen. Sources close to the process said that it’s already been verbally agreed to and it’s simply a function of the calendar and the new Collective Bargaining Agreement kicking in.

Jrue Holiday – New Orleans Pelicans – $11,286,518

Several teams were hoping to pry Holiday out of New Orleans, however, with Sunday’s DeMarcus Cousins deal, the Pelicans have gone all in on this roster and are comfortable with where they stand with Holiday, mainly because they can give him the largest deal in free agency. The Pelicans are prepared to do a max or near max deal for Holiday (according to sources) and that salary value may be too rich for other suitors, especially given Holiday’s injury history. While nothing is done until it’s done, the Pelicans are prepared for the risk of losing Holiday but feel like the outcome of the season post-Cousins trade and a hefty offer could help them sway Holiday back for another deal.

Gordon Hayward – Utah Jazz – $16,073,140 – $16,736,710

One NBA executive joked recently that it was a two-horse race as it pertains to Hayward’s future, suggesting he’d only meet with the Celtics and Jazz in free agency and if he makes an All-NBA team, then the decision gets easier. Hayward has a $16.73 million player option that he is expected to decline. The Jazz will have to face the facts that Hayward can’t really commit to them long-term until this summer and he won’t know if he’ll qualify for the huge payday of a designated veteran until after the season. The Jazz are, at this point, turning away anything with Hayward attached, but there is a reality to all of what Utah will have to come to grips with. League sources doubted seriously that Utah trades Hayward and concede that although there is a risk, it will be tough for Hayward to get an All-NBA selection this year, despite being named an All-Star.

Kyle Lowry – Toronto Raptors – $12,000,000 – $12,000,000

The recent struggles with the Raptors got some NBA people wondering if Lowry would commit to the Raptors long term. Over the NBA All-Star break, it was said pretty dramatically that Lowry is all in with the Raptors and the team is prepared to get him a huge new deal this summer. It’s one of the reasons they traded for the Bird rights of Serge Ibaka, as they know full well that Lowry will garner a ton of attention, especially from his hometown Philadelphia 76ers—who have nothing but cap space. They also have nothing to lose in throwing a full max offer starting at $30.6 million on the table. Sources close to the Raptors said this weekend there was almost no scenario in which the Raptors wouldn’t pony up the money unless Lowry told them directly that he does not want to be there. Today, though, that is not the case. Lowry does have a player option worth $12 million, but he is obviously expected to decline it.

Derrick Rose – New York Knicks – $21,323,252

The New York Knicks could trade Derrick Rose before the deadline (maybe to Minnesota). League sources have said he is completely available. The problem is that he’s owed so much as a salary cap charge, moving him would be hard. There have been more than a few insiders that wonder if the Knicks would take on some salary in exchange for moving Rose as a mechanism to obtain a player they maybe missed out on signing. However, Knicks sources said they covet the flexibility more than any of the players the Knicks could obtain at the deadline. It’s not out of the question that Rose is ultimately moved, but it’s not viewed as very probable.

Taj Gibson – Chicago Bulls – $8,950,000

Gibson has been in the rumor mill for most of his career, so now that he’s at the end of his deal, the amusing note from Bulls sources is that ultimately, they would like to re-sign him. While on the surface that may seem comical given how long his name has been out there, the Bulls have been reluctant to move Gibson this year (although he is said to be available). League sources said it might be inevitable for the Bulls to move Gibson, mainly because there is a belief he’d like to move on in free agency and could walk from Chicago for nothing in return. While most of the chatter around the Bulls has been about the future of Jimmy Butler, Gibson might be the only guy they seriously move.

Greg Monroe – Milwaukee Bucks – $17,145,838 – $17,884,176

The Monroe situation is one worth watching, mainly because the Bucks have shopped him aggressively for over a year. The fact that he has a player option on his deal makes extracting trade value for him a little tough, but with the deadline upon them, the Bucks need to decide whether to cash him out or risk him walking away for nothing. The Bucks’ stance on Monroe was that they found a groove for him, but with the chance at losing him for nothing, he’s a name to watch as the deadline approaches.

George Hill – Utah Jazz – $8,000,000

The general vibe from the Jazz is they will re-sign Hill in the offseason, but like many of the players on this list, there is a risk that Hill walks away. Sources close to the Hill situation say he’s really happy in Utah and staying long term is not at all out of the question. What becomes real for the Jazz is at what price. While the 2017 NBA Free Agency class has a number of point guards in it, most are likely to stay where they are. That may mean that Hill becomes one of the better options for teams searching for help, which means he could end up at a price point that doesn’t make sense for Utah. The Jazz do not seem open to moving Hill, but his contract situation makes him a name to watch.

Blake Griffin – Los Angeles Clippers – $20,140,839 – $21,373,952

Like teammate Chris Paul, Griffin’s next deal is all but done. One executive who tried to engage with the Clippers on a Griffin package got absolutely nowhere, saying it was not a conversation the Clippers were willing to have. Griffin has some media ventures in Los Angeles that he’s involved with and has expressed a desire to stay near them. While there was some talk of him heading to Oklahoma City, sources near Griffin said he finds the couple of games he plays there as a Clipper to be draining because of all the family and friends commitments. The idea of playing there full time is not desirable, especially considering how much the Clippers are prepared to pay him to stay in L.A.

Paul Millsap – Atlanta Hawks – $20,072,033 – $21,472,407

The Hawks kicked the tires (now twice) on trading Paul Millsap and found he’d return far less than what he brings to the team. There is a still a chance the Hawks move him before the 3 p.m. EST deadline, but during the All-Star break, more than a few people suggested Millsap may opt out of his $21.47 million option year. If he does, however, a new deal in Atlanta is not out of the question. Given that the Hawks did this same thing last year with Al Horford and lost him to the Celtics, will the Hawks play the same game twice?

Dwyane Wade – Chicago Bulls – $23,200,000 – $23,800,000

Wade’s future is far from set. If the Bulls pull the trigger on moving Jimmy Butler, there is a belief Wade will be moved, too. Wade has said he may opt out of his $23.8 million option year, but finding anyone in the NBA willing to come close to that number in free agency may be hard, especially with Wade saying he did not want to bounce from team to team. There is no questioning that Wade will be gone via free agency if he’s not traded and Butler is. There is a scenario in which both are back with the Bulls and the big change come at head coach, though, as that’s something several executives believe made more sense than trading Wade and Butler.

Kevin Durant – Golden State Warriors – $26,540,100 – $27,734,405

Much like Steph Curry, if you think Durant is leaving Golden State, let’s set the record straight. He’s not leaving. The question is what his next deal looks like. Durant becomes eligible for 30 percent of what’s likely to be a $102 million salary cap in July, but to get there, the Warriors need cap space. To get cap space, it means virtually every expiring contract must go. If Durant opts into his final year of $27.73 million, the Warriors can keep everyone on the roster now if they wanted to. Durant is also eligible for 102 percent of his previous year’s salary, which means he could opt out and sign a new deal starting at $31.8 million. He could also do another one-and-one to get a raise and keep the team together. This is basically what LeBron James did in Cleveland until the combination of a rising salary cap and Bird rights caught up to him. The prevailing thought is Durant plays ball with the Warriors to keep the team together, so the question is: How much and how long?

J.J. Redick – Los Angeles Clippers – $7,377,500

The Clippers have been in the market looking for depth, and while Phoenix’s P.J. Tucker is a prime target for them, one player the Clippers seem unwilling to entertain deals on is J.J. Redick. Several league sources labeled Redick as a non-starter for Rivers and company and there is a belief that Redick already has committed to re-sign in July. Like Griffin and Paul, Redick is viewed as a core piece, and while his $7.3 million price tag is likely going way up, there is a belief that Rivers and the Clippers are ready to pay it. The problem with that is they won’t control it, so things could get interesting at the deadline, but the sense is Redick is staying put.

Jeff Teague – Indiana Pacers – $8,800,000

When the Indiana Pacers traded for Jeff Teague, both sides of the equation said the match was about more than just this season. With the Pacers somewhat middling this year, there are some in NBA circles that wonder if the Pacers would blow it up and start fresh around Myles Turner. Some of that is where the Paul George rumors stem from. Pacers sources found the idea of blowing up the team laughable, but admitted they were getting interesting calls that they had to at least look at. If the Pacers do something drastic, moving Teague could factor into that, however, both sides say that Teague leaving as a free agent is not a big consideration because the Pacers knew what it would likely cost to retain him when they pulled the trigger in the first place.

Serge Ibaka – Toronto Raptors – $12,250,000

Much like Teague, the Raptors knew the price range Ibaka is going to seek this summer and did the deal with Orlando knowing full well they had the inside track on keeping him. Ibaka is not someone to consider as a re-trade candidate. The Raptors feel like he and Patrick Patterson are going to be a potent tandem together.

Here are some of the next tier ending contract players, and their current NBA salary:

Amir Johnson $12,000,000 Patty Mills $3,578,948
Andre Iguodala $11,131,368 Shaun Livingston $5,782,450
Andrew Bogut $11,027,027 Shelvin Mack $2,433,334
Brandon Jennings $5,000,000 Terrence Jones $980,431
Deron Williams $9,000,000 Thabo Sefolosha $3,850,000
Ersan Ilyasova $8,400,000 Tony Allen $5,505,618
James Johnson $4,000,000 Tyreke Evans $10,203,755
Jeff Green $15,000,000 Zach Randolph $10,361,445
Jodie Meeks $6,540,000 Willie Reed $1,015,696
Jose Calderon $7,708,427 Marreese Speights $1,403,611
Kyle Korver $5,239,437 Luc Mbah a Moute $2,203,000
Patrick Patterson $6,050,000 Dion Waiters $2,898,000
Michael Beasley $1,403,611 C.J. Miles $4,583,450
Nene $2,898,000 Rudy Gay $13,333,333
Omri Casspi $2,963,814 Danilo Gallinari $15,050,000
P.J. Tucker $5,300,000 Pau Gasol $15,500,000

All trades must be completed and submitted to the NBA for validation by 3 p.m. EST on Thursday February 23. Basketball Insiders will drop our annual Trade Deadline Diary featuring the latest NBA news, notes and rumors all in one constantly updated page.

More Twitter: Make sure you are following all of our guys on Twitter to ensure you are getting the very latest from our team: @stevekylerNBA, @MikeAScotto, @LangGreene, @EricPincus, @joelbrigham, @SusanBible @TommyBeer, @MokeHamilton , @jblancartenba, @Ben_Dowsett and @CodyTaylorNBA .

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NBA Daily: Tyronn Lue is the Right Coach for the Clippers

Is Lue the right coach for the Los Angeles Clippers? David Yapkowitz thinks so.

David Yapkowitz

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When Doc Rivers was first hired by the Los Angeles Clippers in 2013, the expectation was that he would be the one to guide the franchise into respectability. A laughingstock of the NBA for pretty much their entire existence, marred by bad coaching, bad management and bad ownership, Rivers was supposed to help change all of that.
For the most part, he did.

Rivers arrived from the Boston Celtics with the 2008 championship, and he helped the Celtics regain their standing as one of the NBA’s elite teams. The Clippers were a perennial playoff contender under him and were even in the conversation for being a possible championship contender. The Lob City Clippers led by Chris Paul and Blake Griffin certainly were talked about as being a title contender, and this season’s group led by Kawhi Leonard and Paul George were definitely in the mix as well.

Not only did Rivers steady the team on the court though, but he was also a very steadying presence off the court. He guided the franchise through the Donald Sterling controversy and he was a positive voice for the team as they navigated the bubble and the ongoing charge for social reform in the country.

But when things go wrong with a team, the coach is usually the one who ends up taking the fall. While Rivers did bring the Clippers to a level of respectability the franchise has never known, his record was not without blemishes. Most notably was his team’s inability to close out playoff series’ after holding three games to one on advantages two separate occasions.

In 2015, the Clippers had a 3-1 lead over the Houston Rockets only to squander that lead and lose Game 7 on the road. In Game 6, their shots stopped falling and neither Paul nor Griffin could do anything to halt the Rockets onslaught.

This season, in an incredibly similar fashion, the Clippers choked away a 3-1 lead over the Denver Nuggets and ended up getting blown out the second half of Game 7. Just like before, the offense stalled multiple games and neither Leonard nor George could make a difference.

There were also questions about Rivers’ rotations and his seeming inability to adjust to his opponents. In the end, something had to change, and whether it’s right or wrong, the coach usually ends up taking the fall.

Enter Tyronn Lue. Lue, like Rivers, is also a former NBA player and has a great deal of respect around the league. He came up under Rivers, getting his first coaching experience as an assistant in Boston, and then following Rivers to the Clippers.

He ended up joining David Blatt’s staff in Cleveland in 2014, and when Blatt was fired in the middle of the 2015-16 season, Lue was promoted to head coach. In the playoffs that year, Lue guided the Cavaliers to victory in their first 10 playoff games. They reached the Finals where they famously came back from a 3-1 deficit against the 73-9 Golden State Warriors to win the franchise’s first championship.

The Cavaliers reached the Finals each full year of Lue’s tenure as head coach, but he was let go at the start of the 2018-19 season when the team started 0-6 after the departure of LeBron James.

In the 2019 offseason, Lue emerged as the leading candidate for the Los Angeles Lakers head coaching job, before he ultimately rejected the team’s offer. After rejoining Rivers in LA with the Clippers for a year, he once again emerged as a leading candidate for multiple head coaching positions this offseason before agreeing to terms with the Clippers.

Following the Clippers series loss to the Nuggets, many players openly talked about the team’s lack of chemistry and how that may have played a factor in the team’s postseason demise. Adding two-star players in Leonard and George was always going to be a challenge from a chemistry standpoint, and the Clippers might have secured the perfect man to step up to that challenge.

During his time in Cleveland, Lue was praised for his ability to manage a locker room that included James, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love. In Game 7 against the Warriors, Lue reportedly challenged James at halftime and ended up lighting a fire that propelled the Cavaliers to the championship.

Lue’s ability to deal with star egos isn’t just limited to his coaching tenure. During his playing days, Lue was a trusted teammate with the Los Angeles Lakers during a time when Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant weren’t seeing eye to eye. He also played with Michael Jordan during Jordan’s Washington Wizard days.

Now, he’ll be tasked with breaking through and leading the Clippers to a place where no Clipper team has ever been before. He’ll be expected to finish what Rivers was unable to accomplish and guide the Clippers to an NBA championship.

For one, he’ll have to change the Clippers offensive attack. This past season, the Clippers relied too much on an isolation heavy offense centered around Leonard and George. That style of play failed in the playoffs when after failing to adjust, the Clippers kept taking tough shot after tough shot while the Nuggets continued to run their offense and get good shots.

With the Cavaliers, Lue showed his ability to adjust his offense and work to his player’s strengths. In the 2018 Playoffs, Lue employed a series of off-ball screens involving Love and Kyle Korver with James reading the defense and making the correct read to whoever was in the best position to score.

When playing with James, the offense sometimes tends to stagnate with the other four players standing around and waiting for James to make his move. Lue was able to get the other players to maintain focus and keep them engaged when James had the ball in his hands. Look for him to try and do something similar for when either Leonard or George has the ball in their hands.

He’s already got a player on the roster in Landry Shamet who can play that Korver role as the designated shooter on the floor running through off-ball screens and getting open. Both Leonard and George have become efficient enough playmakers to be able to find open shooters and cutters. That has to be Lue’s first task to tweak the offense to find ways to keep the rest of the team engaged and active when their star players are holding the ball.

The defensive end is going to be something he’ll need to adjust as well. The Clippers have some of the absolute best individual defensive players in the league. Leonard is a two-time Defensive Player of the Year, George was a finalist for the award in 2019 and Patrick Beverley is a perennial All-Defensive Team selection.

When the team was locked in defensively this season, there wasn’t a team in the league that could score on them. The problem for them was they seemingly couldn’t stay engaged on the defensive end consistently enough. The other issue was Rivers’ inability to adjust his defense to his opponent. Against the Nuggets, Nikola Jokic had a field day whenever Montrez Harrell was guarding him.

Lue’s primary task will be to get this team to maintain their defensive intensity throughout the season, as well as recognize what matchups are and aren’t working. Both Ivica Zubac and JaMychal Green were more effective frontcourt defenders in the postseason than Harrell was. Look for Lue to play to his team’s strengths, as he always has, and to trot out a heavy dose of man-to-man defense.

Overall, Lue was the best hire available given the candidates. He’s got a strong rapport among star players. He’s made it to the finals multiple times and won a championship as a head coach. And he already has experience working with Leonard and George.

Given the potential free agent status of both Leonard and George in the near future, the Clippers have a relatively small window of championship contention. Lue was in a similar situation in Cleveland when James’ pending free agency in the summer of 2018 was also a factor. That time around, Lue delivered. He’ll be ready for this new challenge.

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NBA Daily: The Lakers’ Third Scorer Is By Committee

The Los Angeles Lakers have a whole unit of third scoring options – and that’s why they’re one win from an NBA Championship.

David Yapkowitz

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One of the biggest questions surrounding the Los Angeles Lakers once the NBA bubble began was who was going to pick up the mantle of being the third scoring option.

Even before the 2019-20 season began, it was obvious that LeBron James and Anthony Davis would be the primary offensive weapons, but every elite team with championship aspirations needs another player or two they can rely on to contribute on the offensive end consistently.

The obvious choice was Kyle Kuzma. In his third year in the NBA, Kuzma was the lone member of the Lakers’ young core that hadn’t been shipped elsewhere. His name had come up in trade rumors as possibly being included in the package to New Orleans for Davis, but the Lakers were able to hang on to him. He put up 17.4 points per game over his first two seasons and had some questioning whether or not he had All-Star potential.

For the most part this season, he settled into that role for much of this season. With Davis in the fold and coming off the bench, his shot attempts dropped from 15.5 to 11.0, but he still managed to be the team’s third scorer with 12.8 points per game.

But here in the bubble, and especially in the playoffs, the Lakers’ role players have each taken turns in playing the supporting role to James and Davis. Everyone from Kuzma to Alex Caruso, to Dwight Howard, to Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, to Markieff Morris and even Rajon Rondo have had games where they’ve given the team that additional scoring boost.

Earlier in the bubble, James himself said they need Kuzma to be the team’s third-best player to win, but Kuzma himself believes that it’s always been by committee.

“We don’t have a third scorer, that’s not how our offense is built. Our offense is really AD and Bron, and everyone else plays team basketball,” Kuzma said on a postgame media call after Game 4 of the Finals. “We’ve had a long season, hopefully by now, you’ve seen how we play. Everyone steps up at different times, that’s what a team does.”

On this particular night, when the Miami HEAT got a pregame boost with the return of Bam Adebayo and wealth of confidence from their Game 3 win, it was Caldwell-Pope who stepped up and assumed the mantle of that third scoring option.

He finished Game 4 with 15 points on 50 percent shooting from the field and 37.5 percent from three-point range. He also dished out five assists and grabbed three rebounds. Perhaps his most crucial moments of the game came late in the fourth quarter with the Lakers desperately clinging to a slim lead and the Heat not going away.

He hit a big three-pointer in front of the Miami bench with 2:58 to go in the game, and then followed that up with a drive the rim and finish on the very next possession to give the Lakers some breathing room.

Caldwell-Pope has been one of the most consistent Lakers this postseason and he’s been one of their most consistent three-point threats at 38.5 percent on 5.3 attempts. He was actually struggling a bit with his outside shot before this game, but he always stayed ready.

“My teammates lean on me to pick up the energy on the defensive end and also make shots on the offensive end…I stayed within a rhythm, within myself and just played,” Caldwell-Pope said after the game. “You’re not going to knock down every shot you shoot, but just staying with that flow…Try to stay in the rhythm, that’s what I do. I try not to worry about it if I’m not getting shots. I know they are eventually going to come.”

Also giving the Lakers a big offensive boost in Game 4 was Caruso who had a couple of easy baskets at the rim and knocked down a three-pointer. He’s become one the Lakers best off the ball threats as well, making strong cuts to the rim or drifting to the open spot on the three-point line.

He’s had his share of games this postseason when it’s been his turn to step up as the Lakers additional scoring threat. During Game 4 against the Houston Rockets in the second round, Caruso dropped 16 points off the bench to help prevent the Rockets from tying the series up. In the closeout Game 6 of the Western Conference Finals against the Denver Nuggets, he had 11 points and finished the game in crunch time.

For him, it’s about staying ready and knowing that the ball is eventually going to come to whoever is open. When that happens, it’s up to the role players to take that pressure off James and Davis.

“Our third star or best player is whoever has the open shot. We know what AD and LeBron are going to bring to the table every night. They’re going to get their attention, they’re going to get their shots,” Caruso said after the game.

“It’s just about being ready to shoot. We have two of the best passers in the game, if not the best, so we know when we are open, we are going to get the ball. We have to be ready to do our job as soon as the ball gets to us.”

And if the Lakers are to close out the series and win the 2020 NBA championship, head coach Frank Vogel knows that it’s going to take a collective effort from the rest of the team, the way they’ve been stepping up all postseason.

“We need everybody to participate and contribute, and we’re a team-first team,” Vogel said after the game. “Obviously we have our two big horses, but everybody’s got to contribute that’s out there.”

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NBA Daily: Alex Caruso: The Lakers’ Unsung Hero

The Los Angeles Lakers are two wins from an NBA championship and Alex Caruso is just happy to play his role and contribute.

David Yapkowitz

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Alex Caruso has technically been an NBA player for three years now, but this season is his first on a regular NBA contract.

After going undrafted out of Texas A&M in 2016, he began his professional career as with the Philadelphia 76ers in summer league. He managed to make it to training camp with the Oklahoma City Thunder but was eventually cut and acquired by their the G League team, the Blue.

In the summer of 2017, he joined the Los Angeles Lakers for summer league, and he’s stuck with the team ever since. A strong performance in Las Vegas earned him the opportunity to sign a two-way contract with the Lakers for the 2017-18 season, meaning he’d spend most of his time with the South Bay Lakers in the G League.

The Lakers re-signed him to another two-way contract before the 2018-19 season. Restricted to only 45 days with the Lakers under his two-way contracts, Caruso played in a total of 62 games over those two years.

It wasn’t until the summer of 2019 that the Lakers finally signed him to a standard NBA contract worth $5.5 million over two years. And he’s become a key player off the Lakers bench, especially in the playoffs.

Despite not getting much of an early opportunity, Caruso continued to put in the work in anticipation of when his number would finally be called. He always was confident that it would come.

“It’s been the story of my career, no matter what level I’m at, the more time I have on the court, the better I’ve gotten,” Caruso told reporters after the Lakers eliminated the Denver Nuggets. “I’ve been waiting for an opportunity, I was two years on two-ways…finally I played well enough to get a contract, and over the course of the year it’s the same thing, anytime I can get out there on the court, I get better.”

Caruso’s stats may not jump off the page, he put up 5.5 points per game this season on only 41.2 percent shooting from the field, 33.3 percent from three-point range, 1.9 assists and 1.9 rebounds, but his impact has gone far beyond statistics.

His playoff numbers are up slightly at 6.8 points on 43.6 percent shooting to go along with 2.9 assists and 2.3 rebounds, but he’s become an invaluable member of the team’s postseason run. The defensive intensity and energy he brings to the court have been instrumental in playoff wins.

In this postseason alone, he’s seen himself matched up defensively with Damian Lillard, James Harden, Russell Westbrook, and one of the bubble’s breakout stars in Jamal Murray. Each time, he hasn’t backed down from the challenge and has even provided solid man to man defense on each of them.

“Looking and diving into the basketball aspect, series by series, just finding different ways that I know I can be effective, watching past games against opponents, just knowing their tendencies,” Caruso said on a recent media call. “The defense and the effort thing is something I’m always going to have. You can see that in the regular season when I might be more excited on a stop or defensive play on somebody than the rest of the team in game 45 or 50 in the season.”

While his main contributions have been his defense and his hustle, he’s found ways to be effective on the offensive end as well. While not shooting particularly well from three-point range percentage-wise in the playoffs at only 26.9 percent, he’s hit some timely ones during Laker runs to either pull closer to their opponent or to blow the game open.

He’s also been able to get the rim off drives and get himself to the free-throw line, and he’s made strong cuts off the ball to free himself up for easy layups. Playing with the second unit, he’s played a lot of off-ball with Rajon Rondo as the main facilitator, or with LeBron James as the only starter on the floor.

“For me, I think it’s about being aggressive. At any time I can put pressure on the paint whether it’s to get to the rim to finish or to draw fouls or make the defense collapse and get open shots for teammates, that’s really an added benefit for us to have multiple guys out on the court,” Caruso said.

“So whenever I’m out there with Rondo or with LeBron, to not have the sole focus be on one of them to create offense for everybody, it makes us a lot more balanced.”

The trust that Lakers head coach Frank Vogel and the rest of the team have in Caruso has been evident this whole postseason. Perhaps no bigger moment came for him than in Game 6 against the Nuggets in the Western Conference Finals when Vogel left him on the court to close out the game.

He’s also become one of the team’s vocal leaders on the court during gameplay, on the sidelines in the huddle and the locker room. On a team with a lot of strong personalities, Caruso’s ascendance as a locker room leader is something that just comes naturally for him. It’s something he’s done his entire basketball career.

“Being vocal has always been easy for me. Outside of this team, I’ve usually been one of the leaders on the team, one of the best players on my team growing up at different levels of basketball. Being vocal is pretty natural for me,” Caruso said.

“I got the trust of my teammates, they understand what I’m talking about. I say what I need to say and it doesn’t fall on deaf ears. I’m really competitive and if there’s something I think needs to be said, I’m going to do it. I leave no stone unturned to get the job done.”

Now in the NBA Finals, as the Lakers seek to win their first championship since 2010 and No. 17 overall, Caruso has reprised his role as a defensive irritant and glue guy who makes winning plays. For the team to win this series, they need to continue to get timely contributions from him.

And with each step of the way, he’s just soaking it all up and is thrilled to be able to have this opportunity alongside some of the NBA’s best.

“It’s a journey I’ve been on my whole life just to get to this point. It’s really cool, I don’t know how to state it other than that,” Caruso said. “It’s just super cool for me to be able to have this experience. To play meaningful minutes and play well, and be on the court with LeBron in big-time moments.”

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