On Monday, Joel Embiid agreed to a five-year, $148 million maximum rookie extension. More accurately, on Monday the 76ers begrudgingly agreed to a five-year, $148 million maximum rookie extension. At first glance, paying a player averaging 10.3 games played per season max money is delusional, ill-advised, and just downright stupid. But the Sixers were stuck between a rock and a hard place—the rock being the possibility of losing a potential Hall of Fame center, and the hard place being his perpetual injuries.
This contract is a textbook example of high risk, high reward. If it pans out, fans will praise GM Bryan Colangelo for securing their franchise star until 2022. If it doesn’t, fans will bash former GM Bryan Colangelo for destroying The Process. It’s easy to imagine Embiid’s new contract derailing the 76ers, but it’s also easy to see the upside, to imagine Embiid holding up the Larry O’Brien trophy as the crowd chants “Trust the Process,” and a hooded Sam Hinkie watches from the shadows with a warm smile.
The Sixers were at a pivotal point this offseason, facing perhaps the biggest question of their long rebuild. Shakespeare put it best: “To Biid or not to Biid, that is the question.” Philadelphia gave their answer in the form of a $148 million contract. But was it the right answer?
Joel Embiid played 31 games this year, and even in those 31 he played limited minutes. But if he stays healthy (This is the caveat to this entire section), he could be the best player in the NBA.
That is not an exaggeration. If he stays healthy, he could be the best player in the NBA. Here are his per 36 minute statistics last season:
If he had played those 36 minutes each game (assuming his stats extrapolated perfectly), he would have ranked 4th in the league in points, 9th in rebounds, 1st in blocks (by a wide margin), 2nd in three-point percentage among centers, and 2nd in steals among centers.
This is a ROOKIE. A 22-year-old rookie, yes, but regardless—Joel Embiid is a first year NBA player putting up top-ten-player-in-the-league-type numbers.
Embiid’s rookie numbers drew him comparisons to the greats—Shaquille O’Neal, Hakeem Olajuwon—but his game is more versatile than theirs. If he stays healthy and continues his upward trajectory, he could one day (knock on wood) be better than them.
A player who can protect the paint, steal the ball, get out in transition, space the floor, grab rebounds, score in the post, draw fouls, hit his free throws, score in the pick-and-roll, and also be the NBA’s Most Valuable Social Media Personality is an asset worth any amount of money. If he can stay healthy, the 76ers have locked down the centerpiece of their franchise in Joel Embiid.
With their franchise player (if he stays healthy) playing alongside Ringer The preseason MVP favorite Ben Simmons, the Sixers look like a promising team this season, let alone the coming years. That’s not to mention first overall pick Markelle Fultz, underrated wing defender Robert Covington, Croatian sensation Dario Šarić, Turkish rookie Furkan Korkmaz, and veteran three-point sniper J.J. Redick.
If Embiid stays healthy, this was a vital signing for the 76ers. While the details of the contract haven’t been fully released, ESPN’s Zach Lowe tweeted that the contract is “perhaps the most complex in NBA history,” implying that there are incentives that make the deal more team-friendly. So even if he can’t stay on the floor, the Sixers may have given themselves some emergency exits.
Hopefully, for the Sixers, Embiid will earn every penny of that contract by playing 82 game seasons, and dominating as he did in his 31 this year. It’s a risk, yes, but if he stays healthy, it’s a risk worth taking.
Not to Biid
How many times did I just have to write “if he stays healthy”? (You don’t have to go back and count. It was seven.) Yes, Embiid had a fantastic rookie year—oh wait, no he didn’t. He played 31 games. He played less than half a season. He played fewer games than there are Godzilla movies.
His per 36 stats were incredible, and you know why? Because he played 25.4 minutes per game. Of course his numbers are good when you multiply them by one and a half without lowering his efficiency. Admittedly, his raw stats were very good for a rookie, and he would’ve easily won rookie of the year if he had stayed healthy. Ah! There it is again.
During his college career at Kansas, Embiid looked like the best prospect in the nation. He put up a 11.2 point, 8.1 rebound stat line on good percentages, and played 28 games until he missed the Big 12 and NCAA Tournaments with a stress fracture in his back. He dropped in the draft to third overall after he underwent foot surgery and was ruled out four-to-six months. Later, the medical staff determined the right decision would be to play it safe and hold Embiid out for his entire rookie season. The subsequent offseason, a setback in his recovery was revealed, and Embiid had to once again undergo surgery on his foot and miss the entire season. The following season, his third, the 76ers determined that they would let Embiid play limited minutes, not allowing any back-to-back games. Things were looking up until Embiid tore the meniscus in his left knee near the end of the season, and had to undergo another surgery. His availability for the start of next season is uncertain.
That guy just inked a $148 million contract.
His upside is enticing, sure, but his much more likely downside is terrifying. Embiid’s max extension could end up looking worse than Joakim Noah’s deal with the Knicks, or Bismack Biyombo’s with the Magic, or Omer Asik’s with the Pelicans, or Ian Mahinmi’s with the Wizards, or Meyers Leonard’s with the Blazers, or Timofey Mozgov’s with the Lakers, or Greg Monroe’s with the Bucks…Why are teams paying centers so much?
But you get the point. Embiid could be great, but look at Sam Bowie, Greg Oden, or even his best case scenario Bill Walton. Seven foot basketball players with foot and knee problems do not recover to have a long, healthy career. They just don’t.
That is the Question
But maybe he will. Joel Embiid is one of the most exciting young players in the NBA right now, and maybe even a 10% chance at a healthy version of him is worth a max extension. If he stays healthy, the extension is fantastic news for 76ers fans. If he doesn’t, tying up max money in a player who’s wearing suits to every game could derail the franchise.
“To Biid or not to Biid, that is the question.”
But there is no right answer. I guess that’s what makes it such a good question.