The Philadelphia 76ers have agreed to a five-year, $148 million max rookie contract extension for fourth-year center Joel Embiid, according to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski.
According to Wojnarowski, if Embiid hits the max criteria over the course of the deal, it could be worth as much as $178 million.
The deal comes as a surprise as the two sides were said to be negotiating, but progress on a long-term extension was unclear.
As such, the 76ers are taking a massive gamble on Embiid after just 31 career games. Embiid, the No. 3 pick in the 2014 draft, missed the first two seasons of his career with foot injuries before playing 31 games last year – and then missing the rest of the season with a torn meniscus.
But those 31 games were a revelation. Embiid averaged 20 points on 46% shooting, 36% from downtown, with nearly eight rebounds and 2.5 blocks per game. With Embiid on the floor, the lowly 76ers actually outscored teams, competing with opponents for the first time in years after undergoing a dramatic rebuild.
The Sixers know what they have in Embiid on the floor – an athletic, inside-out, physical specimen capable of defending the rim and taking over the game on offense. The question is how often they’ll get to have Embiid on the floor.
Sixers coach Brett Brown has already said the team is being extremely cautious with Embiid’s health. He has sat out parts of training camp this season, taking part in 5-on-5 drills only occasionally. Few believe he’ll play a full, 82-game season soon. ESPN’s Zach Lowe estimated that in order for the 76ers to be a playoff team, they’ll need at least 50 games out of Embiid, a modest projection that is still nearly double what he played last year.
If Embiid can’t get over his injury woes, the 76ers will be saddled with a long, expensive contract for a player who can’t get on the floor. According to Wojnarowski, the deal contains some “salary cap protection” for the 76ers if Embiid suffers a long-term injury, though it’s unclear what the guarantees and non-guarantees are at this point.
But when Embiid is healthy, he can do things like this:
The 76ers have decided that however much of this they can get from Embiid per season is worth it.
If Embiid recovers from his physical ailments and can play at least over 50% of the season annually, then the deal will be worthwhile. Stocked with back-to-back No. 1 picks in Ben Simmons and Markelle Fultz, the Sixers have a core that may be the most promising in the league.
But until Embiid is healthy and stays healthy, the team will always have a big question hanging over it.