CAMDEN, N.J. — The front offices of professional sports teams are always dealing with a delicate balance of competing in the present and positioning for a successful future.
The Sixers are no different.
As the team officially tips off training camp on Tuesday for what it hopes to be its most successful season in years, there are still some serious question marks about the future of the roster.
The biggest one surrounds center Joel Embiid. Embiid is entering the fourth and final year of his rookie contract. Embiid and the Sixers have until Oct. 16 to reach an agreement on a rookie scale extension. If the two sides can’t strike a deal, the big man will become a restricted free agent next summer.
Embiid, who is currently still rehabbing from surgery for a torn meniscus, finally burst onto the scene last season by averaging 20.2 points, 7.8 rebounds and 2.5 blocks per game. However, he knows that by being limited to just 31 games during his career and with the team holding all the cards regarding his immediate future, he isn’t in a position of power during any contract negotiations.
“At the end of the day, I don’t have the leverage," Embiid said. "I’m going into my fourth season and I’m going to be a restricted free agent, so there’s no leverage, they can do whatever they want. There’s been discussions about it. Hopefully, something does work out” (see story).
Embiid isn’t alone. Robert Covington, also coming off both a breakout season and meniscus surgery, is in a similar situation.
The Sixers picked up the fourth-year, $1.57 million option on Covington’s contract in June. That’s a steal considering Covington finished fourth in the NBA in Defensive Player of the Year voting while scoring 12.9 points a night.
The Sixers can't sign Covington to an extension until Nov. 15, the three-year anniversary of when they originally signed him.
“We’ve definitely been in talks and everything,” said Covington, who this offseason reportedly switched agents to the powerful CAA Sports. “Both sides are very open to what is going on. It’s just a matter of the right move that’s to be made. Bryan is playing chess right now with the pieces that he’s adding. Now it’s just making sure that everything stays the way that he pictures.”
Then there’s the curious case of Jahlil Okafor. In just two seasons with the team, the center has witnessed his name in just about every trade rumor imaginable. Okafor, who recorded 11.8 points and 4.8 boards a game in a reserve role a season ago, was apparently so close to being dealt at last February’s deadline that he was held out of two games only to rejoin the Sixers.
Team president Bryan Colangelo would never rule anything out in regards to shipping Okafor, but at the moment all plans are for the big man to remain a Sixer.
“There’s no problem between us and Jahlil right now,” Colangelo said. “If he had his druthers would he be with another club? I can’t answer that question, but I think that he’s happy being here. He’s been treated well. The coaches coach him like they coach every other athlete.
“Again, any discussion about things that are out there — whether or not he’s been traded or not, whether or not he’s being shopped or not — I can say I have not actively been shopping Jahlil Okafor. … But the narrative is he’s here, he’s going to be an active participant in the things that we’re doing preparing for this season and he’s a part of this basketball team until he’s not.”
While things are a very murky with Okafor, the writing appears to be on the wall for Nik Stauskas as he enters the fourth year of his rookie deal.
The team specifically targeted scoring from the off-guard position over the summer (drafting Markelle Fultz to play alongside Ben Simmons in the backcourt, signing JJ Redick in free agency and bringing Furkan Korkmaz from overseas). With Justin Anderson and Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot also expected to vie for time at shooting guard, Stauskas’ future in Philadelphia doesn’t exactly seem bright.
“Not at all, no,” Stauskas sternly responded when asked whether his contract status was on his mind heading into the new season.