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USA Today Sports Media Group
USA Today Sports Media Group
Robert Marvi

The Lakers made a big mistake by letting Jay Huff go

Without a bunch of draft picks and a salary cap crunch, the Los Angeles Lakers are in need of inexpensive young players who can contribute.

D’Angelo Russell, Austin Reaves, Rui Hachimura and Dennis Schroder will be free agents this summer, and guard Malik Beasley has a team option for next season, which means some tough financial decisions are ahead.

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It has a lack of true centers. Mo Bamba is the team’s only such player. He is due $10.3 million next season, which will become fully guaranteed this summer.

The bad news is, the Lakers had a viable and inexpensive rotation-caliber center under contract, Jay Huff. Huff had mostly played for the G League’s South Bay Lakers last season, but inexplicably, the organization waived him in October.

About a month ago, he signed a two-way contract with the Washington Wizards, and he has done well with them since.

It looks like the Lakers messed up on this one.

Huff could provide some of what the Lakers need at center behind Anthony Davis

Bamba has played well in his limited time with L.A. (he has missed the past month with an ankle injury), but it doesn’t hurt to have an additional center on the roster, even if he is merely a “break glass in case of emergency” option.

Huff is 7-foot-1 and 240 pounds, and in his time with the South Bay Lakers, he showed potential as a shot-blocking, floor-stretching center.

In six games with the Wizards, the 24-year-old is averaging 6.3 points, 2.8 rebounds and 0.5 blocked shots in 12.0 minutes while shooting 61.1%  overall, 50% from 3-point range and 91.7% from the free-throw line.

In his last two games, Huff has received significant playing time, and he has responded big time. He had 17 points and nine rebounds on Tuesday against the Milwaukee Bucks, and he put up 14 points with three blocks the following night versus the Atlanta Hawks.

In those two contests, he also made 5-of-9 shots from downtown in about 56 minutes of playing time, proof that he’s not only a good 3-point shooter, but a pretty high-volume one.

Huff could've helped in other ways as well

Although Davis has had arguably a career-best season playing almost exclusively at the 5 this season, some feel the Lakers should go back to the setup they had during their championship season with Davis starting at power forward and playing about half of his minutes at center. The team then split the rest of the minutes at center between two other players.

In that type of setup, Bamba could’ve started at the 5 with Huff getting about 10-15 minutes of playing time a game.

In addition, the NBA’s new collective bargaining agreement imposes some harsh restrictions on teams that go $17.5 million over the luxury tax line. There is a chance that could mean the Lakers would have to release a rotation player or two to stay under that threshold, and Bamba could conceivably be a candidate before his guaranteed money for next season kicks in.

In that scenario, Huff could’ve been a very solid replacement for him.

All of this was very avoidable all season, with the Lakers needing a rim-protecting backup 5. Jason Reed of Lake Show Life clearly spelled out the roster situation that made releasing Huff look even worse.

Via Lake Show Life:

“Worse off, the team has had an open roster spot the entire time since it waived Matt Ryan. There was room to bring Huff into the fold and give him a run in the rotation to see what he was made of. But nope. The multi-billion-dollar sports franchise did not want to spend the extra luxury tax money, most likely.”

The Lakers finally have a roster that should be invested into and could be worth paying a significant luxury tax bill for. If team governor Jeanie Buss is serious about winning another Larry O’Brien Trophy, she will have to pony up the dough and stop cutting costs by letting prospects such as Huff leave.

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