Alex Caruso has 27 career playoff games under his belt, a Finals appearance with the Los Angeles Lakers in the 2019-20 season, and one huge diamond-laced championship ring.
The guard has kissed the Larry O’Brien Trophy, been mentored by a guy named LeBron, and if he could bring a snack to the arena it would likely be carried in a dented lunch pail.
So the last thing Caruso needs is a hype man.
Yet, he had one on Friday.
“He brings a winning mentality to the team first and foremost as a champion, and he also brings that toughness, that grit, and he’s going to do all the little things,” new Bulls guard Lonzo Ball said of what Caruso will also bring to the roster. “AC is the perfect teammate. Anybody would love to play with him. He’s going to put the team first and I know he’s definitely going to be appreciated in Chicago.”
An appreciation that will likely start with the Bulls coaching staff.
When the bell rang for the start of free agency less than two weeks ago, Ball to the Bulls was the worst-kept secret in the league the past few seasons. Caruso also coming to the Bulls? That came from nowhere.
Not because he wasn’t worthy of the four-year, $37 million deal from his new team, but because the thought was the Lakers would try and keep their glue guy.
Fortunately for the Bulls, Los Angeles was building in a different direction, adding Russell Westbrook and then having to go on the cheap to build around their Big Three.
That left the Bulls in the running, and having the perfect role for the combo guard, who thrives in backcourt defense and in disrupting the pick-and-role. Tough the Bulls needed, and tough they are getting.
“Toughness to me I think is just doing the right thing every time,” Caruso said in a Zoom call with the media, when describing his mentality “Whatever your job is on any given play for basketball that is where I am taking this question. Just doing whatever your job is on each individual play and a lot of times for me the last couple of years it’s been guarding really good players and a lot of times you have to play physical, play a little dirty to try to slow guys down because this league is filled with killers, filled with guys that are really good offensive players.
“Describing myself with toughness? I think it’s just a lot of resilience. I have a naive mindset where I always believe I am going to get the job done. That’s kind of carried me to … whether that is correct or not, I lose a lot of times and failure is part of the process, but that mindset has helped me get to where I am today.”
Where he’ll be come late September is hopefully at the Advocate Center, giving the Bulls bench a disruptive defender in the rotation.
More importantly, maybe, just maybe a mindset that will rub off on some current Bulls guards.
Ball knows Caruso well from their days together with the Lakers, but Coby White and Zach LaVine could each use some of the Caruso mentality on the defensive end.
If LaVine can add a “little dirty” to the skillset he already possesses? Max contract talk may suddenly sound much more reasonable.
Either way, Caruso won’t be changing his game anytime soon. If teammates want to mimic it, well, he’s all in on that mentality.
“That’s something you can control is your effort and your energy and playing defense, and for me that’s always been a catalyst for my game,” Caruso said. “It provides energy to the team, provides energy for the game, and usually is positive.”