Extending Embiid is a risk the Sixers had to take

Jacob Doole Roar Rookie

By , Jacob Doole is a Roar Rookie

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    Philadelphia 76ers center Joel Embiid (21) and Sacramento Kings forward Garrett Temple (17) battle for position under the basket during the first half of an NBA basketball game in Sacramento, Calif., Monday, Dec. 26, 2016. Sacramento won, 102-100. (AP Photo/Steve Yeater)

    Joel Embiid’s contract extension with the Philadelphia 76ers might be one of the strangest, most complicated and most unique situations in NBA history.

    It was announced early on Tuesday morning (AEDT) that Embiid and the Sixers had agreed to a five-year, $148-million rookie scale maximum contract. The total value of the deal could rise to as much as $178 million if Embiid were to make an All-NBA team or win MVP this season.

    And while there are some injury protections included, the money is “essentially guaranteed,” as reported by ESPN. The contract itself is reportedly 35 pages long, with Philadelphia only able waive Embiid for a discounted sum if certain contractually agreed-upon injuries cause him to miss 25 games and play less than 1,650 minutes in a season.

    Basically, if Embiid’s previous injuries return and he misses significant time, the Sixers can release him and pay only part of his salary. Any new injuries, and they’ll have to dole out the full amount.

    The whole contract feels risky, and yet it felt inevitable. It seems both justified and premature, sensible and crazy.

    In his de-facto first season, Embiid had per-36 minutes numbers that only Wilt Chamberlain could match as a rookie. How could such a generational talent not be given a max extension?

    He’s only played 31 games in a three-year career due to a slew of serious injuries. How could someone so fragile be given so much guaranteed money?

    But the bottom line is, whether he gets injured again this season or not, the Sixers could not afford to lose Embiid. Outside of a guaranteed career-ending injury (and I mean a 100 per cent, without a doubt guaranteed career-ender), no set of circumstances that may materialise this year could make that a viable scenario for the franchise.

    Because Joel Embiid is the franchise, both on and off the court.

    The 31 games he played last season gave glimpses of a transcendent talent that completely re-invented the team around him. Embiid is a potentially once-in-a-generation big man, with the ability to score from every level of the floor, create plays off the dribble and from the post, protect the rim by blocking shots and chase smaller opponents on the perimeter.

    We only have a small sample size, but Embiid is one of the most versatile players in the league when healthy.

    (AP Photo/Steve Yeater)

    With Embiid on the court, the Sixers had a net rating of plus-3.2, good for seventh in the league last season. Without him, that number dropped to minus-7.9, which would have placed them dead last. Every key metric, offensive and defensive, is significantly higher with Embiid on the floor. And if you’re not a stats nerd like me, just watch a Sixers game from last year – the difference is immediately and extraordinarily obvious.

    With Ben Simmons and Markelle Fultz now in the fray, along with a stronger veteran presence from JJ Redick and Amir Johnson, the Sixers would be better without Embiid this season than they were last. As their other young pieces develop that will continue to be true. But if they want to compete for titles and realise their full potential, they need Embiid to go the distance.

    Almost as important is Embiid’s impact off the court and among the Philadelphia fans. He’s the embodiment of both the past and present of the franchise. He’s ‘The Process’, the crown jewel of a tanking regime that seemed like it may never work and never end. When the on-court product was near unwatchable in his first two years, and he was stuck on the sidelines, he kept the Sixers somewhat relevant with his legendary Twitter antics, from hitting on Rihanna to recruiting LeBron all before he’d played a single minute in the NBA.

    He may have made a mark on the court now, but he’s more than just a player. He’s a pop culture icon. He’s a rare off-court personality; extremely likeable with an infectious good spirit, and yet simultaneously not caring if he’s liked or not. He says what he thinks, when he thinks it, seemingly unburdened by how he may be portrayed because of it. In today’s social media world, he’s always only one goofy quote or questionable action away from breaking the internet.

    Embiid is the main reason the Sixers are a likeable team. Yes, they have plenty of young and exciting talent, but no other player possesses his off-court charm and charisma. Ben Simmons has been in the background during his redshirt first year, and Markelle Fultz never seems to crack a smile. Teams want to build a brand as well as a successful on-court product, and Embiid is pure gold for Philadelphia’s.

    At least by re-signing him now, the Sixers can reap all the benefits he brings with the ability to add injury clauses into his contract. If they had chosen not to re-sign him, they may have had to match a fully guaranteed max sheet offer once he hit free agency. This way, there’s some security, however flimsy it may seem.

    The Process used to be a negative, almost derogatory term, a sarcastic jab at a franchise in freefall. Now it’s Joel Embiid, and it’s the face and future of Philadelphia basketball. And that’s why his contract extension had to happen.