Not many people had a better start to their week than Joel Embiid did.
The Philadelphia 76ers center will no longer be a restricted free agent next summer after signing a 5-year, $148 million extension. It’s the maximum available to any third- or fourth-year player still signed under their initial rookie contract.
On the surface, this is one of the biggest risks we’ve seen an NBA franchise make in recent memory. Embiid missed his first season with a broken bone in his right foot. Then he re-injured the same foot in 2016-17, and played only 31 games. This summer, Embiid had surgery on his left knee and looks to be on track to play in the 76ers season opener on Oct. 18.
Unfortunately, it doesn’t look like these injuries were flukes. Embiid probably should have been taken No. 1 overall in the 2014 draft based on talent alone. It was his injury history that scared teams off, especially as a 7-footer.
Still, the tanking Sam Presti-era 76ers wound up getting one of the most talented big men in the league. His stat line speaks for itself: 20.2 points, 7.8 rebounds and 2.5 blocks per game is stellar production for an NBA center, no matter the situation. Embiid also shot free throws consistently (78.3 percent) and showed flashes of three-point range (36.7 percent). Along with the likes of Kristaps Porziņģis, Nikola Jokić, and others, Embiid fits seamlessly into the three-point heavy future of the league.
Evaluating Embiid’s new contract cannot be done without taking the team situation into account. The 76ers have been near the salary floor for years, using as little money as possible to construct mediocre rosters in order to consistently land top-five picks. Now that the process is finally paying off, it would be extremely difficult to let one of those picks walk as a free agent.
So, Philadelphia took control of the situation. They didn’t even let Embiid get to that point.
The dollar amount didn’t really matter in the grand scheme of things. Because they have so many players on rookie deals, the 76ers have plenty of money to spend in the next few years. That’s why they were able to use $34 million on J.J. Redick and Amir Johnson this summer. Both of those veterans only signed for one year. And, Philadelphia doesn’t have a single player making over $10 million in 2018-19.
Unless there was a realistic chance a top free agent like LeBron James or Paul George would sign with them, there’s plenty of room to keep their homegrown talent in house with massive extensions.
If Embiid had never been injured in his first two seasons, no one would bat an eye about his extension. That’s simply not the reality of the situation, though. Until he proves he can stay on the court for a full season, his contract will always loom over him. We’ve seen this story play out badly too many times. The Chandler Parsons deal with the Memphis Grizzlies is one of the more recent examples.
Expect more details of Embiid’s contract to be released soon.
ESPN‘s Zach Lowe reports the deal includes many incentives, likely pertaining to how often Embiid is on the court. If this is the case, 76ers GM Bryan Colangelo should be praised for this move. Ultimately, Embiid’s talent is too massive to pass up. Even if he can never stay healthy, he won’t tie Philadelphia down cap-wise in the short-term.
In th end, the 76ers made the right move. May the process live on.