Believe the hype: Guard Alex Caruso is just what Bulls needed
High effort, a willingness to defend and a “little dirty” all look great on Caruso’s résumé, and he’s hoping that mentality will spread to his teammates once camp starts.
Guard Alex Caruso has 27 career playoff games under his belt, an NBA Finals appearance with the Lakers in the 2019-20 season and a championship ring.
He has kissed the Larry O’Brien Trophy and been mentored by LeBron James, and if he could bring a snack to the arena, he likely would carry it in a dented lunch pail.
So the last thing Caruso needs is a hype man.
Yet he had one 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 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.’’
That appreciation likely will start with the Bulls’ coaching staff.
When free agency started less than two weeks ago, the Bulls’ signing of Caruso came out of nowhere. That isn’t because he wasn’t worthy of the four-year, $37 million deal he received but because it was thought the Lakers would try to keep him.
Fortunately for the Bulls, the Lakers opted to build in a different direction. They added guard Russell Westbrook, then had to go on the cheap to build around him, James and Anthony Davis.
That left the Bulls in the running for Caruso, a combo guard who thrives on defense and on disrupting the pick-and-roll.
The Bulls needed some toughness, and they got some in Caruso.
‘‘Toughness, to me, is just doing the right thing every time,’’ Caruso said in a video conference with the media. ‘‘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.
‘‘A lot of times for me the last couple of years, it’s been guarding really good players. 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.
‘‘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. . . . 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 this fall is hopefully giving the Bulls’ bench a disruptive defender in their rotation and, maybe more important, a mindset that will rub off on some of the Bulls’ other guards.
Ball knows Caruso well from their days together with the Lakers, but Coby White and Zach LaVine could use some of Caruso’s mentality on the defensive end.
If LaVine can add ‘‘a little dirty’’ to the skills he already has, talk of a max contract suddenly might sound much more reasonable.
Either way, Caruso won’t be changing his game. If teammates want to mimic it, he’s all-in on that mentality.
‘‘That’s something you can control is your effort and your energy and playing defense, and 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.’’