Ball says new Bulls guard Caruso is 'perfect teammate'

                                                                                                                                                                                                   
  • Bulls addition Alex Caruso, seen here with the Lakers last season, began his run as a defensive-minded role player during his time at Texas A&M. After moving from the G-League to winning a title with the Lakers, Caruso joined the Bulls as a free agent.

    Bulls addition Alex Caruso, seen here with the Lakers last season, began his run as a defensive-minded role player during his time at Texas A&M. After moving from the G-League to winning a title with the Lakers, Caruso joined the Bulls as a free agent. Associated Press

 
 
Updated 8/14/2021 7:27 PM

Alex Caruso gave the Bulls some evidence in case the NBA questions whether there was any tampering before his free-agent decision.

"I honestly didn't understand there was still room for me to be here after the Lonzo (Ball) deal was announced and it was shortly after that my agent kind of explained they still were interested and maybe more so now," Caruso said. "I talked to Billy (Donovan) and AK (Arturas Karnisovas) on the phone, the dominoes fell how they did and it seemed like a good situation for me."

 

Caruso was an interesting choice for the Bulls to add with their midlevel exception. The deal is reported to be for $37 million over four years.

He was sort of a glue guy off the bench for the Lakers during their 2020 championship run, becoming a fan favorite for his hustle, defense and unexpected athleticism. The 6-foot-4 Caruso averaged 6.4 points and 2.8 assists last season.

"(Defense) is something that I think I can provide day-in, day-out; game-in, game-out," he said. "For me that's always been a catalyst for my game, whether it's been getting a run-through steal and getting a dunk on the other end or taking a charge or getting a deflection. It provides energy to the team, provides energy for the game and usually is positive."

Caruso, 27, took a long path to get to this point. He's a lifelong College Station, Tex. native, with both parents working for Texas A&M, then he played basketball at the school. Caruso never averaged in double figures, but left school as A&M's all-time leader in assists and steals, and was the SEC defensive player of the year in 2015-16.

After going undrafted, he spent a year with Oklahoma City's G-League team, then became a Lakers two-way player, won an NBA title and signed a free-agent deal with the Bulls.

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"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," said Ball, a former Lakers teammate. "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."

It will be interesting to see how the Bulls utilize Caruso. Ball and Zach LaVine figure to be the starting guards, with Caruso and Coby White coming off the bench. Caruso is currently the only player on the roster with an NBA championship ring, while LaVine, Ball and White have never been to the NBA playoffs.

As Caruso said, it's easier for a role player to shine while playing next to LeBron James and Anthony Davis.

"As far as playing with LeBron, that's something I'll never take for granted," Caruso said. "How easy he makes the game for his teammates, how much fun it was for me. I'm going to miss throwing him lobs. You can throw it up anywhere and he'll go dunk it.

"So hopefully me and Zach can get on that same page and I'll get some to him. But really grateful to him as a teammate, him as a leader, a friend, a mentor. Just all the things that I've learned from him. Obviously can't take that for granted."

• Twitter: @McGrawDHSports

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