The recent seasons for the Lakers have been something of a roller coaster, going from winning the NBA Finals in 2020 to losing in the first round as a seventh seed a year later.
Undoubtedly, the highs and lows for Los Angeles have been drastic over the past few seasons. Whether caused by injury, poor trade, or confusing team composition, there has been no lack of dramatic storylines originating in LA. With LeBron James and Anthony Davis aging past their primes, the room for error for the Lakers is razor thin. Each mistake or mishandled negotiation causes a sense of panic in the fanbase.
Though the Lakers are undeniably better than they were in the early and mid-2010’s, the path to success has not been easy. This offseason, the Lakers seemingly learned from their recent mistakes, building upon their strengths and improving their roster depth while maintaining their financial flexibility. By re-signing Austin Reaves and finding creative paths to growth, the Lakers had numerous successes this summer after a trip to the Western Conference Finals.
Before this summer, the offseason choices by Los Angeles were questionable at best. Following a disappointing playoff appearance in 2021, the Lakers overhauled their depth in a trade for former MVP Russell Westbrook. Westbrook spent roughly two seasons with the Lakers but struggled to fit on a team with little outside shooting to maximize Westbrook’s best talents.
With so many ups and downs for the Lakers over the past few years, these struggles have led to plenty of hindsight “what if” questions that could have altered the Lakers’ recent past successes and failures.
What if the Lakers re-signed Alex Caruso instead of Talen Horton-Tucker?
In the 2021 summer, the Lakers had to choose between re-signing two Los Angeles free agents, Alex Caruso and Talen Horton-Tucker. Caruso had built a reputation of hard nosed defense and offensive versatility after playing a significant role in the Lakers’ 2020 championship run.
Talen Horton-Tucker’s value came from the young wing’s potential, though he had little proven yet in his career. In the 2020 playoffs, Horton-Tucker appeared in only two games and averaged 9 points on 49.6 efficient field goal percentage the following season.
Ultimately, the Lakers chose to bet on Horton-Tucker’s possible ceiling over Caruso’s proven track record, and Caruso left to the Chicago Bulls. Since then, Horton-Tucker never reached the heights the Lakers expected him to meet. The following year Horton-Tucker’s efficiency dropped further and could never carve out a consistent role in the squad’s rotation.
Theoretically, prioritizing youth and development is typically the smartest choice for a front office to make; however, the Lakers were needed to maximize the present value of James and Davis rather than spend time developing a project player such as Horton-Tucker.
In the end, the Lakers traded their young prospect to the Utah Jazz for a 34-year-old veteran guard Patrick Beverly, although they had been offered first round draft picks for him before then. Los Angeles mismanaged Talen Horton-Tucker throughout his entire Los Angeles tenure, and choosing him over Caruso makes a spectator wonder how the Lakers would have performed in the 2021-22 season with Caruso rather than Horton-Tucker.
In Utah, Horton-Tucker has remained relatively the same as he was in Los Angeles. Last season, Horton-Tucker averaged 10.7 points on inefficient shooting, though he continued to show short flashes of the player he can be. The change of scenery may be the best chance for his future, but his time with the Lakers made re-signing him over Caruso a regretful choice for the Lakers ever since.