Making sense of Joel Embiid’s $148 million Sixers extension

That’s a ton of money for a guy who has barely played in the NBA.

NBA: Miami Heat at Philadelphia 76ers
Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

Joel Embiid played 31 games last season, the first time he stepped on an NBA floor in three years in the league.

He’s played 786 minutes out of a possible 11,888 since being drafted by the Sixers in 2014.

He was just cleared to resume 5-on-5 action earlier this week and has yet to take part in a preseason game this year.

So naturally, the Sixers signed Embiid to a 5-year, $148-million extension Monday. Trust the Process, as soon as the check clears.

Woj went on to write in his report at ESPN that Embiid’s deal could be even bigger, given the percentage of the salary cap he’s capable of earning and bonuses if he earns All-NBA teams or MVP this season.

The designated exception — termed “the super-max” — allows Embiid to earn a higher percentage of the salary cap — and potentially millions of dollars more — if he meets criteria, including, making All-NBA teams or the NBA’s Most Valuable Player. If Embiid meets the super-max criteria, he could earn an as much as $178 million on the contract, league sources said.

Embiid, one of the NBA’s most talented and popular young players, has the ability to earn an additional $30 million if he earns either All-NBA first, second or third team), or named MVP this season.

In a city full of process trusters and Embiid lovers, yours truly is as big an Embiid lover as anyone. The most apt comparison to Embiid on the court is Hakeem Olajuwon, something I’ve been saying since the kid was at Kansas. He’s that good, but even after three full seasons in the league, it’s all based on potential. And so giving him this much money a full season before he becomes a free agent is a huge statement by the team. And a calculated risk.

Reports indicate the Sixers will have some salary-cap protection should Embiid miss playing time due to injury. The ESPN report, however, stated that said protection would come “should Embiid suffer injury” which fails to mention his existing injuries being part of that protection clause. In other words, the Sixers may be taking a giant leap of faith with this contract.

Initial reports indicated the Sixers could get back up to half the contract should Embiid miss time due to injury. At its current value, Embiid is slated to earn just under $30 million per season, which seems really high for a guy with such an injury-prone past. Only Steph Curry, LeBron James and Paul Millsap are making more than $30 million this season, with Gordon Hayward and Blake Griffin crossing the $29 million threshold.

But that’s all clever accounting, as teams navigate the salary cap based on when their top players got their max deals.  Besides, Spotrac has Embiid’s salary for this season at just over $25 million. While that’s one of the top salaries for centers in the NBA this coming season, it’s less than Jrue Holiday is making in New Orleans. So how’s that for perspective.

The fact is, Embiid is only 23 years old, and while he has been injured a ton, ironically that’s kept him off the court, thus avoiding the wear and tear on his body other players his age would have already accumulated. And think about this: LeBron didn’t win his first title until he was 27. Michael Jordan won his first when he was 27. Shaquille O’Neal was also 27. Steph Curry was 26, but Kevin Durant didn’t win his first until he was 28.

Olajuwon was 31.

That Embiid hasn’t played yet won’t mean much if he has the type of career his skill set predicts. That said, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar won his first title in his sophomore season…when he was 23. He won his final title the year before he retired, when he was 40.

Even if Embiid never wins a title, having a career that long after his start-and-stop first three years would be a huge win.

Then again, the Sixers aren’t paying him max money to not win a title. So imagine this: A healthy Embiid at center. Ben Simmons bringing up the ball, dishing interchangeably with Markelle Fultz. J.J. Redick creating space and knocking down threes and Dario Saric and Robert Covington rotating in at forward depending on matchup.

Add in young guys like Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot and Furkan Korkmaz with veterans like Jerryd Bayless, TJ McConnell and oh-by-the-way Jahlil Okafor and the Sixers core looks pretty darn good.

The future is now. Assuming The Process stays healthy.

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