In 2018, the Los Angeles Lakers launched themselves into championship contention by swiping LeBron James from the Cleveland Cavaliers in free agency. Now, LeBron's former team is hoping to return the favor by grabbing two of his Laker teammates in free agency. According to Chris Fedor of Cleveland.com, the Cavaliers are interested in both Alex Caruso and Talen Horton-Tucker this offseason.
Neither will be easy for any team to pry away from the Lakers in free agency. Horton-Tucker is a restricted free agent, so the Lakers will have the right to match any offer made to him. Caruso will be unrestricted, but all reports suggest that he is likely to return as he loves playing alongside James. LeBron himself has publicly praised both players, and the Lakers have enjoyed enormous success in lineups featuring him and Caruso especially.
The other obstacle Cleveland needs to overcome is its own finances. The Cavaliers have roughly $94.2 million committed for next season. Against a projected $112.4 million cap, that could still be a decent chunk of space, but that number doesn't account for several important factors. First, the Cavs will have to pay a high lottery pick a decent salary next season. Second, they will have to extend a qualifying offer to starting center Jarrett Allen if they want to retain him. That qualifying offer will come in at roughly $11.7 million, a fair price considering Allen's value, but one that will cut into Cleveland's flexibility.
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If the Cavaliers want to create serious space, they will almost certainly have to trade one of their three expensive veterans: Kevin Love, who is owed over $31 million next season, Taurean Prince, who will make $13 million, Larry Nance, who will earn almost $10.7 million, or Cedi Osman, who will bring in over $8.1 million. If a trade cannot be reached, Cleveland could save almost $9 million by using the stretch provision to waive Prince. That would leave them with $4.3 million cap hits for him over each of the next three seasons.
The Cavaliers are built around ascending guards Collin Sexton and Darius Garland, but neither has distinguished himself enough for Cleveland to ignore other possible guard additions. Caruso has largely been a reserve in Los Angeles, and his defensive excellence would be welcome for a team that just finished 25th on that end of the floor. Horton-Tucker is more of an upside play. The Lakers don't have many developmental minutes to offer a raw 20-year-old, but his potential as a driver and finisher shined through when he was given chances. He struggles to shoot, but Garland and Sexton could cover him on that front. Horton-Tucker is only 6-4, but he has a 7-1 wingspan, so Cleveland could get away with playing three guards and letting Horton-Tucker defend forwards.
Of course, this is all moot if the Lakers are willing to pay up to keep their players. Rob Pelinka and Jeanie Buss have both indicated that they will do just that, so for the time being, Caruso and Horton-Tucker should both be expected to return to Los Angeles barring a particularly aggressive offer from another team.